CD Review of Meet the Eels: The Essential Eels 1996-2006, Vol. 1 by The Eels
Recommended if you like
Beck, Cake, Blur, Weezer
Label
Geffen
The Eels:
Meet the Eels:
The Essential Eels 1996-2006,
Vol. 1

Reviewed by John Paulsen

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T
he Eels emerged in the late ‘90s as part of the post-grunge scene and were one of the more surprising acts to survive that era. The Eels are marketed as a band (with an ever-changing lineup of players), but its driving force is the often-ornery frontman Mark Oliver Everett, known simply as “E.” That nickname probably stands for Everett, but it could just as easily for enigma. E is a bit of a recluse, and while his lyrics are often dark and complicated, his music is deeply beautiful. Over the span of 11 years, the Eels released six studio albums and one live disc, prompting the release of its first “best of” compilation, Meet the Eels. It’s a CD/DVD package, and the music portion, which is jam packed with 24 songs at a total running time of 78 minutes, is pretty impressive.

Mark Oliver Everett, of The Eels

The Eels only had two singles chart in the States – “Novocaine for the Soul” and “Last Stop: This Town” – which both hit the US Mainstream Rock chart in the late ‘90s. The group had more success in the UK, where all nine of its singles charted. All of those singles, save for the grating “Cancer for the Cure,” are present and accounted for here.

With that out of the way, the real question is whether or not the remaining 16 tracks are representative of the best that the Eels have to offer. Which songs should make up an essential playlist for a group like the Eels, who only had modest chart success, can be debated endlessly. But as a fan, I’ll throw in my $.02 for the proverbial record.

It’s great to see terrific gems like “Fresh Feeling,” “Saturday Morning,” “Trouble with Dreams,” “My Beloved Monster” and “Losing Streak” get their due. It’s tough to argue with many of the remaining selections, though it would have been nice if the underrated “Ant Farm,” “Flower,” “Old Shit-New Shit,” “Things the Grandchildren Should Know” and especially “Grace Kelly Blues” had made the cut.

Instead, the band elected to include a previously unreleased track, “Get Ur Freak On,” which just isn’t strong enough (or strong at all) to be considered “essential.” The same goes for the irritating “That’s Not Really Funny,” which becomes even more annoying knowing that there were plenty of quality songs that could have taken its place. A live version of “Dirty Girl” is included along with an alternate version of “Climbing to the Moon,” even though there was absolutely nothing wrong with the original Electro-Shock Blues version. Save the remixes for the B-sides compilation, please.

The package also includes photos, E’s track notes, and a DVD that includes just about every video the band shot over the last decade. Quibbles aside, Meet the Eels does its job. It’s a nice overview for neophytes or for fans that only bought one or two albums. In the day and age of the mp3, fans can download the aforementioned missing tracks and feel confident that they have a pretty good overview of the Eels’ best stuff. Those fans that want to dig deeper into the mind of E can look to Meet the Eels’ sister album, Useless Trinkets, which compiles B-sides, rarities and unreleased tracks.

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