When we’re young, we want to be happy and it’s something that we strive for. The simple act of doing the things that we like is enough to make us happy. As we get older, we spend less time trying to be happy and more time just trying to get by. That’s why we drink certain drinks, smoke different things or find other ways to dull whatever feeling it is inside of us. It’s temporary happiness. “Novocaine For The Soul”, released in 1996, was Mark Oliver Everett (or “E” for short), the man behind Eels pleading for numbness. But in his typical style, rather than approaching the topic with heavy-handedness, he falls upon his wry sense of humour to carry the song. With a snide remark like “Life is good / and I feel great / cuz Mother says I was / a great mistake”, E happily accepts his place in life.
It’s okay to be miserable. Just take some of the edge off, please.
But there’s more to “Novocaine For The Soul” than cheeky rhyming couplets. The song has a remarkable intro as it blends together needle-hiss from a record player, a bouncing guitar line and an out-of-tune toy piano twisting together into an eerie melody. Then as the song kicks in, it brings about a sensation of floating, not unlike the trio presented in the music video. E’s deadpan delivery throughout is brimming with a spunk that would not be present on subsequent records.
The song was a big hit for the group, getting them tons of airplay on alternative rock radio and Muchmusic. Overseas they won a Brit Award and did really well for themselves in Europe before eventually making a name for themselves in North America as well. There were a slew of other singles from debut album Beautiful Freak but “Novocaine” was the first and the best.
The b-side, titled “Fucker,” is a sweet, downer of a track. Relying on waves of distortion over a simple guitar progression, the song betrays its serene aesthetic with its subject matter. E laments his own loneliness and isolation. “Came home tonight / felt like I’d died of loneliness”. It’s odd that a b-side like “Fucker” would be one of Eels’s best tracks, but that would often be the case with the group.
On the CD version of the single two more tracks were included: album-track “Guest List”, yet another loser anthem which taps into the frustrations of being an outsider and a live recording of “My Beloved Monster” which doesn’t stray too far from the original recording. (in subsequent tours, Eels would make a habit of re-arranging and re-styling “My Beloved Monster” as drastically and dramatically as possible.
Falling upon a rich sonic palette and a sick/dry wit, “Novocaine For The Soul” holds up very well in 2014. It’s one of my all-time favourite songs and a great introduction to a great band. I’d recommend skipping the single and instead grab the full album Beautiful Freak. Then go the extra mile and pick up the b-sides collection Useless Trinkets. You’ll be glad that you did.