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Eels 

Shootenanny! (Dreamworks)

Forever dogged by comparisons to Beck, with whom he shares a vocal style; an appetite for eclectic, winking folk-pop; and an uncanny ability to dodge the novelty-act label, Eels' Mark Oliver Everett boasts at least a few fans who think the comparisons should go in the other direction. Those people are wrong. With the exception of 1998's tragic and beautiful Electro-Shock Blues, Eels records are a little less than the sum of their parts, rife with deft melody and arrangement, but lacking in the sheer brazen conviction Beck brings to his music, for good or ill.

The same can be said of Shootenanny! As with its predecessor, Souljacker, Everett has sloughed off the tweeness of his earlier work in favor of heavier songs. The most rockin' of these, the jangly "Dirty Girl" and "Wrong About Bobby," make for passable fun, but the pop whimpers when it should bang, and slow numbers such as "Restraining Order Blues" and "Love of the Loveless" come off both half-baked and too clever, a weird combination. Everett is undoubtedly talented; Shootenanny! brims with good, unrealized ideas. What he needs now is a kick in the ass.

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