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Eels, ‘Shootenanny!’ (Dreamworks) / MC Honky, ‘I Am the Messiah’ (spinART)

Your average dictionary lists a couple hundred words between goofy and grief; Mark Oliver Everett, known professionally as “E,” aspires to write a song for each one. As frontman for the Eels, he hitches morbid melodrama worthy of Nick Cave to a twee delivery worthy of They Might Be Giants.Electro-Shock Blues (1998), a concept album about his sister’s suicide and his mother’s impending death from lung cancer, spawned the “Last Stop: This Town” video, in which E appears as a singing carrot. His sweetest, prettiest song ever is a piano ballad titled “It’s a Motherfucker.”

Shootenanny!, officially the Eels’ fifth album, is, sadly, a rather mediocre mofo. As usual, E dreams up a Pee-wee’s Playhouse-grade cast of misfits, from the lonely little kid awake hours before sunrise on “Saturday Morning” to the sympathetically drawn schlub of “Restraining Order Blues”:”Everybody knows that I’m not a violent man / Just someone who knows he’s in love.” But with the exception of the rocking “All in a Day’s Work,” this is the kind of bedroom folk pop E’s done prettier–and weirder–before.

Maybe he’s just tired. In addition to scoring the Billy Bob Thornton flick Levity, E recently discovered (nudge, wink) a reclusive studio wizard named MC Honky. Honky’s debut album, I Am the Messiah–which sounds suspiciously like a sample-happy Eels side project–is part indie-rock Jazzercise, part self-help tape. On “A Good Day to Be You,” over a backdrop of bachelor’s-den strings and guitars, a smooth talker thanks you for being sexy and for remembering his birthday, like The Onion‘s mighty Smoove B brought to life. Another tune spells out E’s foolproof plan to nip those pesky Beck comparisons in the bud: “3 Turntables & 2 Microphones”! Loose and lazy as it is, Messiah is still more fun than the catchiest chorus on Shootenanny!