Eels: Meet the Eels: Essential Eels Vol. 1Useless Trinkets

Mark Oliver Everett's Eels have been going for a decade now, consistently mining their frontman's dark side for material while shedding genres with nearly every album. Never known to shortchange fans — Eels' discography already includes a live disc and double album — the band marks this milestone with a slew of digitally remastered goodies, namely a 24-track primer and 12-video DVD (Essential Eels) and an odds 'n' sods double-disc/Lollapalooza DVD (Useless Trinkets). Essential sails remarkably smoothly through Beautiful Freak's dreamy alt-rock, Electro-Shock Blues' tragicomic soul-searching, Daisies of the Galaxy's pleasant pop and folk, Souljacker's dirty garage, Shootenanny!'s off-the-cuff catchiness and Blinking Lights' gleeful potpourri. The piss-take cover of Missy Elliott's "Get Ur Freak On" may not qualify as "essential," strictly speaking, but it sure is fun. While fans may cite glaring omissions — No "Friendly Ghost" or "Jeannie's Diary"? — that's the nature of the beast. The 50-track Useless Trinkets is a little too true to its name, unloading every remix, live version, BBC recording, soundtrack entry and alternate take that seemingly exists. Among the overly familiar and less than worthy, though, lie some real gems. The Moog Cookbook version of "Novocaine for the Soul" is a slice of outer-space niftiness, while live covers of Prince's "If I Was Your Girlfriend" and Screamin' Jay Hawkins's "I Put a Spell on You" arrive as bluesy outbursts. Even Everett's own songs are transformed: The tiptoed "I Like Birds" becomes Ramonesy punk, "Souljacker Part 1" seethes with rockabilly hoodoo and upright bass leads a jazzy take to "Dog Faced Boy." Once seeming to exist somewhere near Tom Waits and Beck, Everett proves here (if he hadn't already) that he inhabits a universe entirely his own. And guess what? Either anthology, or both, represents an open invitation for listeners to explore at will.


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