25 January 2008

E is for Eels

Who are the Eels? Or who is the band's frontman, Mark Oliver Everett -- who goes by just 'E' -- I should ask.

How much of his genius physicist father is lurking in his rapscallion skull? How much was he scarred by the death of his father and mother and suicide of his sister? Do we even care as long as he crafts fantastic albums like "Beautiful Freak," and "Electro-Shock Blues"? Will he ever learn to cut the bloat that plagued his otherwise fantastic two-disc release of "Blinking Lights and Other Revelations"? Sitting down to listen to Eels' new two-disc collection of rarities, "Useless Trinkets," I was a bit skeptical. If the actual formal releases had become bloated and something shy of razor sharp, how good could his group of live tidbits, remixes and unreleased songs be?

Very good, as it turns out. The live recordings are so clean that but for the applause and catcalls you wouldn't even know they're from the stage. The remixes are invigorating. The cover choices are intriguing (James Carr's "The Dark End of the Street," Elvis' "Can't Help Falling in Love"). This collection is peppered with the noise and electronic squigglies that made "Beautiful Freak" so damned good. It would actually make a great introduction to Eels, even if his label didn't also release a 24-track "Meet The Eels" best-of at the same time.

"I'm turning out just like my father,
Though I swore I never would.
Now I can say that I have a love for him
I never really understood.
What it must have been like for him,
Living inside his head.
I feel like he's here with me now
(Even though he's dead)."
-- Eels, "Things the Grandchildren Should Know"

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