The Eels, led by Mark Oliver Everett, better known as E, celebrate a decade’s worth of music by releasing Meet the Eels, a best-of collection to introduce themselves to new listeners, and the incorrectly titled Useless Trinkets, a collection of 50 rare tracks and a DVD of their 2006 Lollapalooza performance.
The great thing about The Eels is the wonderful adventures they take the listener on. There’s no telling what sounds and stories are going to take place one track to the next or even within a song. There are beautiful piano ballads and dirty electric rockers, lyrics about dealing with the loss of a loved one and the plight of field mice. One moment E will show you life is funny, but just as quickly it turns out it’s “not ha ha funny” as he makes clear on “3 Speed.” Sometimes the music perfectly fits the mood like the raucous vibe on “Souljacker part 1” reflecting Johnny’s anger, yet E is more than willing to juxtapose beautiful arrangements with unhappy lyrics of frustrated and failed relationships during “Your Lucky Day in Hell” and “It’s a Motherfucker,” the latter of which E used the same piano Neil Young played on After the Gold Rush. The only limitations are E’s imagination.
The first track is “Novocaine for the Soul,” probably the best-known Eels’ song, from the debut Beautiful Freak. It begins with the gloriously familiar sound of the static created by a needle dropping onto a record. The remaining 23 tracks offer a fair sampling of the band’s six albums and an insight into what was taking place in E’s life over the years. As an artist, he opens himself up and reveals his growing pains, particularly in relationships. He shares moments we can identify, from heartbreak of “Hey Man (Now You're Really Living)” when you “cry your guts out 'til you got no more/…'bout someone that you're never gonna get to touch” to the awareness of “I'm Going To Stop Pretending That I Didn't Break Your Heart.”
People who think they are new to the band might be more aware of them then they realize because Hollywood loves The Eels, using many of their songs in films and television. “My Beloved Monster” and “I Need Some Sleep” were in the first two Shreks respectively; “Fresh Feeling” was in the television show Scrubs; and “Souljacker” was used in Hot Fuzz and The Condemned. The most frequent song used is “Mr. E's Beautiful Blues,” appearing in Road Trip, Charlie Bartlett, and A Guy Thing. The song has an interesting history because it almost didn’t appear on Daises of the Galaxy. The label wanted it, but E didn’t think it fit the album. A compromise was reached and it was included as a bonus track. At the time E stated, “You can think of it as buying the album and getting a bonus track, or buying the single and getting a bonus album.”
The album also contains two previously unreleased tracks, “Climbing to the Moon” (Jon Brion Remix) and a cover of Missy Elliot’s “Get Ur Freak On,” which used to be played a lot during the Shootenanny! tour, and a live version of “Dirty Girl” from With Strings: Live At Town Hall.
The personality of E shines throughout this package. He offers insight and reflections in the liner notes. On the DVD, which contains 12 videos by the band, E and his dog Bobby Jr. provide the commentary track. It’s hysterical as he stops the monologue at one point and focuses on the delivery of Chinese food for his lunch. E is honest to a fault, claiming he hates the video for “Susan’s House” and thinks it’s a “real piece of shit” because it spells out everything happening in the lyrics. He barely has any memory of the behind-the-scenes on “Your Lucky Day in Hell” and eats his fortune crackers. “Rags to Rags” and “Cancer for the Cure” only appear in this collection as videos.
On first listen, you might wonder what oddness is flowing out the speakers, but it’s music to be savored and it deserves your full attention to be completely appreciated. The Eels are a welcome relief from formulas and predictability because E is an artist with many sides and interests, and he has a will to explore and share them.