For Eels fans, and especially those obsessed with Mark Oliver Everett, the man who created and fronts the ever-changing lineup as well as writing its songs, 2008 kicked off anything but quietly. Despite a mere six studio and one live record in the band's catalog, E and Universal/Geffen have issued what amounts to a truckload of backlog material on two separate -- some would say excessive -- releases: Meet the Eels: Essential Eels 1996-2006, Vol. 1, a CD/DVD package, and Useless Trinkets: B-Sides, Soundtracks, Rarities, and Unreleased 1996-2006. The latter includes two discs of music and a live DVD documenting the band's 2006 Lollapalooza performance.
Meet the Eels is, arguably, the way a "hits" compilation should be presented, to fans as well as the merely curious. It's loaded to the gills with 24 cuts that include the unreleased "Get Ur Freak On." The rest of this monster is culled with cuts from Beautiful Freak (four) Electro-Shock Blues (two), plus an unissued remix of "Climbing to the Moon," by Jon Brion.This decade gets the lion's share of the material naturally, with four tunes from 2000s Daisies of the Galaxy, and a trio off 2001's Souljacker; a pair of tunes were tacked on from Shootenanny! (still the most confounding toss of the band's history), and a whopping five from Blinking Lights and Other Revelations. The latter was the band's best-selling record and yet it's still debated hotly among fans. One thing is for sure: for the first time since Beautiful Freak it drew new listeners in droves. Also included here for some unfathomable reason is "Dirty Girl," from the Live at Town Hall offering, and luckily, "I Need Some Sleep," from the soundtrack album for Shrek 2. Right, you guessed it, nothing here comes from A Man Called E, making it an incomplete Everett document, but it's close enough.
Simply put, there is no reason to go into the track choices, they are listed below and can be debated endlessly anyway. This tri-fold digipack is loaded with photos, E's own elliptical annotations for the tracks, and a wonderfully long and now legendary piece by Mark Edwards from the Sunday Times in London. Some of E's notes are clever, and some seem just plain tossed off, as if they are memories he really doesn't have any longer but needed to get down on paper for this. That's OK -- his very natural ambivalence is part of the appeal in his idiosyncratic, adventurous, and original songs. The DVD contains virtually every video the band shot and released for commercial play; they are compiled and available as a retail item for the first time. As great an introduction or mix the CD makes, it's the video collection that makes it all worth the cash. Given the kitchen sink approach of it, it offers an even more diverse and undebatable document; showcasing everything from original conceptions by directors to the escalator to the oblivion lineup changes. There is simply no better way to get acquainted with an enigma.
01 Novocaine for the Soul Everett, Goldenberg 3:07
02 Susan's House Everett, Jacobsen, Weatherly 3:56
03 My Beloved Monster Everett 2:12
04 Your Lucky Day in Hell Everett, Goldenberg 4:28
05 3 Speed Everett 2:45
06 Last Stop: This Town Everett, Simpson 3:28
07 Climbing to the Moon [Jon Brion Remix] Everett 3:56
08 Flyswatter Everett 3:17
09 I Like Birds Everett 2:33
10 Mr. E's Beautiful Blues Everett, Simpson 4:01
11 It's a Motherf#&[email protected] Everett 2:14
12 Souljacker, Pt. 1 Butch, Everett, Siegel 3:16
13 That's Not Really Funny Everett, Parish 3:19
14 Fresh Feeling Everett, Murder 3:39
15 Get Ur Freak On [#] Bridges, Elliot, Mosley 3:29
16 Saturday Morning Everett 2:55
17 Love of the Loveless Everett, Murder 3:33
18 Dirty Girl [Live at Town Hall] Everett 3:00
19 I Need Some Sleep Everett 2:29
20 Hey Man (Now You're Really Living) Everett 3:02
21 I'm Going to Stop Pretending That I Didn't Break Your Heart Everett 3:55
22 Trouble with Dreams Everett 4:34
23 Railroad Man Everett 3:38
24 Losing Streak Everett 2:50
Biography by Greg Prato
Although the Eels are often marketed as a full-fledged band, singer/songwriter E (real name: Mark Oliver Everett) is responsible for the group's sound and direction. Born in Virginia on April 9, 1963, Everett became interested in rock music at an early age via his sister's record collection, and began playing drums at the age of six (as well as tinkering on his family's piano). As the years progressed, Everett began leading a troubled teenage life, which was further complicated by his father's death. However, the turmoil led to an even stronger interest in music for Everett, as he taught himself how to play his sister's guitar and began writing his own original compositions. (Tragedy would later form the catalyst for Eels' magnum opus, Electro-Shock Blues.)
Due to the fact that several of his friends also were named Mark, it was also around this time that Everett began going by his initials -- and eventually, solely by the letter "E." By his early twenties, E was recording demo material on a used four-track cassette recorder, and eventually decided to pursue his rock & roll dreams by relocating to Los Angeles. Due to his prolific songwriting, the quality of his tunes naturally began to improve, which led to a recording contract as a solo artist for Polydor Records. This was followed by a pair of underappreciated releases, 1992's A Man Called E (which was supported with a tour opening for Tori Amos) and 1993's Broken Toy Shop, before E left the label and formed Eels along with bassist Tommy Walter and drummer Butch Norton. The trio inked a deal with the then-newly formed DreamWorks label and issued their debut, 1996's Beautiful Freak. The album spawned a sizable MTV/alternative radio hit with "Novocaine for the Soul," its promo clip received three MTV Video Music Award nominations the following year, and the group's popularity rose in England (resulting in a Brit Award, which was presented to the group by goof metallists Spinal Tap).
What should have been a time of great promise for E turned out to be one of tragedy, as both the singer's sister and mother passed away in quick succession. This was compounded by Walter's departure from the group. The dark mood resonated in Eels' sophomore effort, Electro-Shock Blues, which proved to be stronger than its predecessor yet failed to fuel much commercial success. With new bassist Adam Siegal in tow, the group toured behind the album's release before returning to the studio immediately afterward to work on a third album. Issued in 2000, Daisies of the Galaxy offered a slightly brighter outlook and featured a guest appearance from R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, who also helped co-pen a track. Despite the album's commercial failure, E put together "the Eels Orchestra and launched an international tour in support of its release. The six-piece band featured saxophone, trombone, trumpet, banjo, guitar, violin, upright bass, piano, melodica, clarinet, and timpani -- to make it work on-stage, each bandmember was required to play three to four different instruments each night.
After a live recording of the 2000 Eels Orchestra tour, Oh What a Beautiful Morning, was issued via the group's official website, E began preparing for Eels' fourth studio release. Instead of penning the entire album by himself (as he'd done with the group's previous work), E turned to John Parish for help. The two created Souljacker, which was issued throughout most of the world in September 2001 and hit American shores early the following year (in the U.S., the first edition of the CD also contained a bonus four-track disc). The resulting tour saw E and Norton joined by multi-instrumentalist Parish, as well as new bassist/synthesizer player Koool G Murder. A live disc, Electro-Shock Blues Show, followed soon after to promote the tour.
Spring 2003 began a flurry of Eels/E-related releases, beginning with MC Honky and his SpinART release I Am the Messiah. While the man behind Messiah's splattering mix of hip-hop beats, dance grooves, and kitschy samples may or may not have been E in DJ drag, the album was nevertheless an enjoyable slice of summertime fun. E/Everett's score for the indie film Levity arrived in April, and June saw the release of the Eels' fifth studio album, Shootenanny!. Its follow-up, 2005's Blinking Lights and Other Revelations, was an ambitious double album including 33 songs. Eels' With Strings: Live at Town Hall album, recorded June 30, 2005, documented the New York Town Hall performance during their 2005 tour of the same name. Their first properly released live album, With Strings: Live at Town Hall, was simultaneously issued in February 2006 with a concert DVD. In 2008, Eels released two CD/DVD sets -- Meet the Eels: Essential Eels 1996-2006, Volume I and Useless Trinkets: B Sides, Soundtracks, Rarities and Unreleased 1996-2007. The band's music also comprised the bulk of the soundtrack for Yes Man, a comedy featuring Jim Carrey.