Wednesday, 17 October 2007

EELS: Susan's House


Was this really a top ten hit a decade ago? What were we dreaming? I can remember exactly where we were when we first heard "Susan's House" (and Eels); it was on Saturday mid-evening Radio 1 in one of those calmly golden lazy weekends we used to love. Stuart Maconie played it on his show as a sample off this interesting new album which at that moment was only available on import; we scooted off to HMV in Cornmarket Street Sunday lunchtime and there was one import copy (a bargain at £9!) in the racks. Like all the best music and musicians, it didn't quite fit anywhere in particular - a Boy's Own Cibo Matto with angst instead of recipes? A blackly comedic Beck? - and Beautiful Freak, the album, managed to be simultaneously unsettling and comforting; the Generation X lullaby of the title track ("And I'll be here to see that you don't fade away") is still profoundly moving.

But "Susan's House" got the nerve conduction studies going; a waking dream of a less than golden kind...he walks through this muffled landscape, the music scraping its way through a fog of dread; he sees the crazy old woman smashing bottles, the paramedics stripping down the shot kid, Echo Park, Baywatch seeping into black, crack spammers, the popsicle and the pram...but there's no Travis Bickle vengeance programme at work here; if he starts a little smug ("Nothing hiding behind this picket fence") he ends up furtively watching his own breath ("And I keep walking"). A Strawberry Fields where he wishes none of this was real.

And all of this contrasts with the rest, the pause, the meditation, the pledge to continue until he reaches Susan's house ("She's gonna make it right," "I can't be alone tonight") with the notion that it is far realer than Paolo's Chinese house; the fog clears, the sunshine and blue blink, an old Gladys Knight electric piano beeps a welcome (sampled the wholly appositely titled "Love Finds Its Own Way" - and I didn't have to look that one up) and Mr E becomes plaintive, almost noble; what struck us at the time was how the chorus suddenly turned "Susan's House" into a Blue Nile song...the purity determined not to be contaminated by what stumbles or avoids its path. Let's go in tonight.