Eels kingpin Mark Everett has spent his career writing songs that are funny, sad, slightly surreal and sometimes harrowing, with an uncommon eye for the most telling details, however small.
This lavish vinyl set traces Eels’ journey from 1996 debut Beautiful Freak to 2003’s Shootenanny!, a period that took Everett from oddball outsider to Tom Waits-endorsed prince of US alt.rock. He arrived in spectacular post-grunge style with Novocaine For The Soul and the music-box indie of Susan’s House, the opening one-two on Beautiful Freak, an album that suggested Eels were dour humorists in the vein of Lou Reed or Smog.
But things took a darker turn with follow-up Electro-Shock Blues (1998), which was informed by the deaths of Everett’s mother (cancer) and sister (suicide). It’s a bleak though strangely beautiful diary of grief, its emotional centre located in songs like Going To Your Funeral Part 1 and Last Stop: This Town.
2000’s Daisies Of The Galaxy was fragmentary and pop-weird (I Like Birds; Tiger In My Tank), but Everett rediscovered his inner rock beast with Souljacker (2001), shaping playful narratives in the form of Dog Faced Boy and Teenage Witch. Shootenanny!, meanwhile, exuded a bluesier, more narcotic atmosphere, especially on All In A Day’s Work and Rock Hard Times.
Long-haul fans may find Electro-Shock Blues Show the biggest temptation on offer here, a fine live double from 1998 that makes it onto vinyl for the first time. With little change from a hundred quid, though, this really is for collectors only.