Where To Start With… Eels
Since 1996’s Beautiful Freak, the first album released under the name Eels, Mark Everett, sometimes known simply as E, has proved to be one the world’s most idiosyncratic and prolific songwriters. Prior to that 1996 debut, E had already released three albums under his own name and in the fifteen years that have passed since Beautiful Freak’s release, he has churned out ten studio albums under the Eels moniker, as well as one under the name MC Honky – 2002’s I Am The Messiah – as well as a soundtrack for Ed Solomon’s 2003 film Levity, six live albums and a couple of b-side collections, as well as a greatest hits. Nobody could accuse him of resting on his laurels, that’s for sure…
Next week, Eels release their eleventh studio album, The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett, and despite the fact that the title makes it sound like a solo record, we are assured that the new record is very much a group effort. Never one to stick to a particular genre, whereas 2013’s Wonderful, Glorious featured crunchy, stomping rock ‘n’ roll numbers like ‘Kinda Fuzzy’, ‘Peach Blossom’ and ‘Stick Together’, this time around the mood is more subdued and introspective, with the raucous distorted guitars replaced for much of the album by an array of orchestral instrumentation which serves as a soothing juxtaposition to Everett’s highly personal and often barbarous lyrics.
While it does represent a shift downwards through the gears from the last album, it isn’t the first time Eels have gone all orchestral on us: 2006’s Eels with Strings was a live album on which the band performed stripped back, alternate versions of their hits, swapping out guitars and drums for violas, cellos and mandolins.
Highlights on the new record include the lilting ‘Mistakes of My Youth’ and bluegrass-tinged ‘Where I’m From’. If you’re a fan of the band you’ll probably want to add this to your collection when it arrives in the UK next week. For those who are new to Mark Everett’s work, we’ve picked out five highlights from Eels’ extensive back catalogue to get you started…
(click the links below to find the albums in our download store. You can also view Eels' artist page here)
Novocaine for the Soul
(from Beautiful Freak)
The song that launched the Eels to fame, this little gem was the lead single from debut album Beautiful Freak and kicks off with a twinkling, music-box melody over a scratchy, crackling swing beat, wrong-footing the listener before suddenly launching into that soaring falsetto hook. As an introduction E’s style of lyric writing, this track pretty much spells it out from the get-go: with lyrics like “Life is white, and I am black / Jesus and his lawyer are coming back”. Still one of their best moments all these years later.
Cancer for the Cure
(from Electro-Shock Blues)
Taken from their sophomore effort, 1998’s Electro-Shock Blues, this track features a gnarly, proto-surf bassline underpinning some eerie theremin-style whistling until the chorus kicks in, somebody stamps on a distortion pedal and all breaks loose when a bluesy Hammond organ enters the fray. Add in some of E’s vocals and a pounding backbeat and it all adds up to Eels at their lo-fi, brilliant best.
Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues
(from Daisies of the Galaxy )
Eels have a habit of writing intros that sound nothing like the rest of the song and for the first 20 seconds of this cut from 2000’s Daisies of the Galaxy you could be forgiven for thinking your radio is on the blink, picking up nothing but static and the distant strains of what sounds like the overture to a Satrurday matinee, then suddenly we’re off and E’s singing about being happy, of all things: “Goddamn right, it’s a beautiful day”. Uh-huh indeed.
If You See Natalie
(from Blinking Lights and Other Revelations)
This gentle, piano-led ballad manages to conjure up images of The Beatles and Disney’s adaptation of Mary Poppins as E sings a message of support to a friend on this track taken from 2005’s Blinking Lights and Other Revelations. We’ve included this as a rare downbeat moment on an otherwise fairly upbeat list, but it’s by no means the only time Eels get a little melancholy, in fact it seems something of a specialism, but this heartfelt ditty is a great example of how the band can do delicate and beautiful just as well as they do fuzzy and noisy.
One of the happiest sounding tracks we’ve ever heard from Eels, and for that reason it’s also one of our favourites. Taken from 2003’s Shootenanny, its positively bouncing drumbeat backs up a jangling guitar riff, before giving way to a gorgeous falsetto hookline that can’t fail to put you in a good mood. If ever a song had a title that was a perfect match for the feeling its music creates, this is it.