Graham Reid | | 2 min read
Wherein cult band the Eels get the kind of re-issue/repackage usually reserved for Major Big Name Acts: Meet the Eels is a 24 track compilation of 10 years from 1996 with a 12 clip DVD collection (with commentary option) and an informative booklet; and Useless Trinkets is a 50-track double disc collection of B-sides, soundtrack pieces, rarities and unreleased recordings, a live DVD and yet another booklet (even fatter and with notes by Giles Martin, son of Sir George).
Oh, and in each of the booklets Mark Oliver Everett -- aka the Eels or sometimes just E -- offers a few informative lines about each track.
Astonishly lavish attention has been given these natty packages -- and some of you may well be asking, "Who the hell the Eels?"
Everett is an LA singer-songwriter who has a revolving door of fellow players so sometimes the Eels come off as an indie-rock band, at other times when he cuts right back he can be a quirky post-folk singer.
The band's debut album Beautful Freak in '96 spawned two much played singles, Novocaine for the Soul (with the clip of the band floating weightless in city alleyways) and the speak-sing Susan's House.
They gained a modest-sized cult following for Everett's memorable lyrics and the elemental simplicity of many of their songs: hear them once and you remember them forever.
Electro-Shock Blues which followed in '98 was a much more melancholy outing, prompted by his sister's suicide, the death of his mother and various other unhappy events. It was raw, cathartic and opens with a song with lyrics taken from his sister's diary. It didn't sell well although invited comparison with Cobain and Lennon's equally self-lacerating and reflective work.
Daisies of the Galaxy (2000) was far more upbeat and included the single Mr E's Beautiful Blues which opens with "Goddamn right it's a beautiful world".
By this time it was impossible to predict Everett's direction, he was going off in many musical avenues (there's a previously unreleased electro-spare cover of Missy Elliott's Get Ur Freak On here) and in 2006 he recorded a live album at New York's Town Hall with a string section.
In the past decade Everett has had Tom Waits, REM's Peter Buck, the Lovin' Spoonful's John Sebastian, John Parish from PJ Harvey's band and others all feature on his albums. Wim Wenders directed the clip for Souljacker Part I and Eels songs have appeared in a number of movies.
So that's who the hell the Eels is.
And the appeal?
Everett, as mentioned, writes memorable (almost pop) songs but wraps them in interesting arrangements (he's not above a pulling in honkin' 50s-style r'n'b sax, lap steel, celeste or whatever the song requires). He also writes lyrics that can be nakedly confessional (I'm Going to Stop Pretending That I Didn't Break Your Heart) as much as crafting elevating rock and pop.
And alt.country, pure pop, bedsit balladry and more.
In his liner notes Martin says, "the key to the beauty of the Eels is simplicity. There's no need, or desire, to overstate the obvious. E's lyrics resonate with a childlike innocence that reflects a distorted world. His choice of instruments and sounds are always considered and chosen to accompany the voice so his lyrics can be heard. Each song is arranged so that it tells a story, and nothing detracts from the intimacy of the vocal, intimate but never soft."
Everett is also a funny guy and his notes to the songs he reveals a droll wit: of Dirty Girl for example he says "the person I wrote it about had disappeared from my life and singing the song helped me feel connected to her. It's a fun little trick we songwriters get to do".
On Losing Streak he sings, "Was I wrong about the world, it's a beautiful new place. Where else could a creep like me meet such a pretty face . . ."
This a lot of Eels but as Everett writes at the end of the Meet the Eels collection, "if you've enjoyed this enough perhaps I'll see you over in the Useless Trinkets aisle for more".
Frankly one collection without the other might seem a little . . . incomplete?