Born in Virginia, 1952, Mark Oliver Everett was raised in a highly academic home. Father High was a highly respected quantum physicist and freethinker who died suddenly aged 52 in 1982.His mother Nancy and sister Elizabeth both died within a year of each other in 1997 and 1998. A later published autobiography, Things The Grandchildren Should Know, covers all the tragedies with a wry passion and is essential reading for any interested E follower.
His first disc, Bad Dude in Love was an independent affair that is now ridiculously rare. It contains a cover of Dennis Linde’s “Burning Love” and several songs that signpost a future direction, namely “Everybody’s Tryin’ to Bum Me Out”.
Polydor snapped up the rights to A Man Called E (1992), a very superior brand of contemporary power pop with zany sound effects from Huxley and an array of keyboards instrumentation courtesy of E, including the plastic Toy Piano.
Broken Toy Shop contains several punchy collaborations with his then bass player Jennifer Condos. An eccentric, off-kilter disc it hardly prepared one for the breakthrough of Beautiful Freak (1996) EELS debut proper. Every bit as addictive as anything from Beck, the opening “Novocaine for the Soul” and “Susan’s House” function as a kind of alternative universe type Steely Dan. The former was a huge alternative hit in America, a#1 in fact, while the latter made the top ten in the UK, his biggest British sale to date.
Perhaps unsurprisingly the mordant “Your Lucky Day in Hell” fared less well, but it’s a helluva song. The family tragedies noted above can’t be separated from the content of Electro-Shock Blues. It was widely praised on release with the more perceptive critics noting a similarity to the naiveté of Brian Wilson and the downright brutal candour of Randy Newman and Lennon. “Cancer for the Cure” and “Elizabeth on the Bathroom Floor” are not for the faint-hearted, nor is “Last Stop: This Town”, addressed to the suicide of his sister. Musically it’s impeccable with guests including Grant-Lee Phillips, Roger Manning and T-Bone Burnett, as well as then drummer Jonathan “Butch” Norton.
“Mr.E’s Beautiful Blues” was the lead in single for Daisies of the Galaxy, a dance pop set with a baffling variety of material and a slash of guitar fire on “Estate Sale” with Peter Buck crashing the gears.
There is more hard rock all over Souljacker (2001), mostly written in tandem with P.J. Harvey’s foil and brother in arms John Parish. Adding Mellotron and Wurlitzer to the sound E aims for a cleverly sampled blend of disorientating dance grooves, most of which would appear on the then cult show Trigger Happy TV. The German movie legend Wim Wenders directed a video for the title track.
The minimalist Shootenanny!, a laugh in the face of misery, cut opinion in half although the bluesy slant of “Rock Hard Times” and “Lone Wolf” are enough to make one stand up and take notice. The morbid title can be seen as a reflection of murderous gun culture.
The 2-CD Blinking Lights and Other Revelations signals a change of address with E moving to Vagrant and coming up with one of his finest works, also collaborating with Buck again, John Sebastian and Tom Waits - who sings on “Going Fetal” having already revealed himself as a major EELS fan of the previous ten days in the making album. From here on Everett does pretty much what he wants: there’s the trilogy of Hombre Loco, End Times and Tomorrow Morning to enjoy, the Wonderful/Glorious mash-up and The Cautionary Tales Of Mark Oliver Everett, a justly acclaimed UK independent chart topper in 2104. We also point you to the B-Sides & Rarities 1996-2003, the excellent Meet the Eels: Essential Eels, Vol. 1 and the tenth anniversary release Useless Trinkets: B-Sides, Soundtracks, Rarities and Unreleased 1996-2006. Those cover a huge amount of ground and are great to rediscover or hear for the first time.
Asked for a quote to summarise his career Mark Everett shot back with “I’m not interested in anything short of kicking complete ass.” We won’t argue with that. E’s your man.
Words: Max Bell
Eccentric and quirky are the best ways to describe the Eels' debut effort, Beautiful Freak. Concise pop tunes form the backbone of the album, yet tinges of despair and downright meanness surface just when you've been lulled into thinking this is another pop group, as titles like "My Beloved Monster," "Your Lucky Day in Hell" and "Novocaine for the Soul" indicate. All in all, Beautiful Freak is a satisfying first record.
Words: James Chrispell
The Eels' second release, Electro-Shock Blues, is a much darker album than their underrated debut, 1996's Beautiful Freak, but just as rewarding. Singer/guitarist/songwriter E experienced many upheavals in his personal life between albums (the passing of several family members and close friends), and decided to work his way through life's tribulations via his music. The result is a spectacular epic work, easily on par with such classic albums cut from the same cloth -- Neil Young's Tonight's the Night, Lou Reed's Magic and Loss. For some of the most introspective and haunting tunes of recent times, look no further than the title track, "Last Stop: This Town," and "Elizabeth on the Bathroom Floor." And although the lyrics deal almost entirely with mortality, the music for "Hospital Food," "Cancer for the Cure," and "Going to Your Funeral, Pt. 1" is comparable to Beck's funky noise, while "Efils' God," "The Medication Is Wearing Off," and "My Descent Into Madness" are all ethereal, soothing compositions. One of the finest and fully realized records of 1998, a must-hear.
Words: Greg Prato
The Eels were always a vehicle for a songwriter called (E), but by the point of their third album, 2000's Daisies of the Galaxy, they were his and his alone. When it came time to deliver a follow-up to the intimate, tortured Electro-Shock Blues, (E) couldn't help but deliver a lighter album, but he'd already turned so far into himself that his music was entirely insular. Of course, his music had always been fairly insular, but if Daisies of the Galaxy is any indication, he's gone so far in, he can't really come out. He's certainly not as extreme as Brian Wilson or Syd Barrett, but he's at the level of XTC or Roy Wood, making pop music for an already-established audience. Nothing on Daisies of the Galaxy will draw in casual listeners the way "Novocaine for the Soul" did, since everything is in miniature, from the yardsale production to the poetic scrawlings. Unlike its predecessor, the album doesn't play like (E)'s private diary; instead, it feels as if one is rummaging through his sketchbook. And, like many sketchbooks, some moments have blossomed, and others remain just intriguing, unformed ideas. For the dedicated, it's worth sifting through the album to find the keepers, since there are enough moments of quirky genius. But not all longtime fans will find this rewarding, since (E) has spent more time in creating mood than crafting songs. There are very few melodies that resonate like his best work, and the stripped-down, yet eccentric production -- sounding much like a cross between Jon Brion and Beck -- never feels realized. That's the problem with an offbeat, gifted musician becoming too insular; there are still clear clues of why he has his reputation, but there's not enough to justify exactly why he does.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
As with the band's previous albums, Souljacker bristles with pop euphoria and cracking production, and proves Eels' frontman, E, to be a superb songwriter, but just like those previous albums, Souljacker ultimately falls a bit flat over the course of its extended running time. Album opener "Dog Faced Boy" exemplifies the weaker half of the album's 12 tracks. Though it's a decent punk glam take on T-Rex dynamics, it doesn't exactly beg for repeat listens like the album's better half. "That's Not Really Funny," "Woman Driving, Man Sleeping," "Fresh Feeling," "Friendly Ghost," and "What Is This Note?" are as strong as any songs in the band's back catalog. On these songs, lush strings, found sounds, children's toys, spy themes, surf music, elaborate piano segments, and fuzzy harmonicas mingle in the band's trademark, innovative way. Easily besting almost anything in Beck's quirky bag of songs, these songs display the charm, polish, and sincerity of E's original vision. Sadly, there's too much skronking punk-pop noise in the remaining songs that serves to drag the album down. This limited-edition release adds a bonus disc of four songs, one of them superb, two of them downright horrible, and one of them a useless remix. Only "I Write the B-Sides" warrants seeking out the limited edition. Its opening lines show E at his most poignant and wise, as he sings "I write the B-sides that make a small portion of the world cry/I like the seaside and singing songs that make you not want to die." Punchy, exuberant, and smart, the song would have made perfect sense on Souljacker in place of the somewhat mindless filler that permeates its cracks. Souljacker is certainly a welcome addition to any fans Eels collection, but due to its weaker batch of tracks, it's hard to recommend it to newcomers.
Words: Tim DiGravina
Being released on the same day as the companion piece to the CD/DVD package Meet the Eels: Essential Eels, Vol. 1, Useless Trinkets: B-Sides, Soundtracks, Rarities and Unreleased 1996-2006 is a true delight for those who have followed the unwieldy, elliptical career of Mark Oliver Everett (aka "E"), who has employed more musicians than probably even he can count under the Eels moniker. There is a DVD in this triple-disc set. It contains the band's 2006 performance at Lollapalooza. It's a nice addition, the show was fine, but it's almost an afterthought for anyone who digs into these cuts with anything approaching earnestness.
First off, there are 50 of them spread over two discs. From the beginning E expresses his own ambivalence with a "Live from Hell" version of "Novocaine for the Soul." How do we know? The opening annotation in the liner notes simply states: "When you have a hit song, you're expected to play it every single day of your life. Good luck not going crazy." The performance reflects that truth. But it is followed immediately by the delightfully poignant, I-love-you-I-hate-you ditty of truth called "Fucker"; according to his notes, it was his girlfriend's nickname for him. (There isn't anyone who hasn't been involved deeply with someone who doesn't get every word of this simple construction.) "Dog's Life" is full of not only wonder-words, but strings, loopy textures, and sparse guitars. Of course, the soundtrack tunes and rarities are awfully welcome -- especially now, before the Eels' single, EP, and movie tunes shelf gets any larger. But E's sense of pulling covers out of his hat walks the same knife-edged push and pull between hell and something less than hell -- purgatory maybe? It adds immeasurably to what's here. The sense of the abject in "I Can't Help Falling in Love with You," accompanied only by his piano, is the opposite of the Elvis version. Elvis begs as a youth begs, E sings into the void of an empty apartment knowing that this confession isn't ever going to be heard because he's already tried that. The reading of the Hollies' "Jennifer Eccles" has a beautiful Chamberlin played by E and a very skeletal Gretsch played by the same. Where the Hollies sang this song with its requisite teen confidence, E's comes from the hall of memory before it fades into the ether. The line "I hope that Jennifer Eccles/Is going to follow me there..." takes on a chilling significance. The version of "Dark End of the Street" (a Chips Moman/Dan Penn soul classic that is performed by everybody, but it still belongs to James Carr) has a mournful horn section -- and perhaps it's Lisa Germano on the backing vocal. Prince's "If I Was Your Girlfriend" is treated with a sublime post-grunge feedback anti-funkiness to begin, but E nails the tune in his way. And the version of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell on You" simply has to be heard to be believed; if you haven't already heard it, E sounds like a man possessed with a band out to tear itself apart. And one controversy has finally been resolved: "Rotten World Blues" is only on the U.S. version of the Souljacker bonus EP, kinda making up for the fact that the remix of "Mr. E's Beautiful Blues" was only included in the U.K. version.
But there's more. There are alternate readings of album cuts which prove to be just that, alternates without any true revelations, though they are perfectly fitting in this context. The booklet is bursting at the seams with craziness, memorabilia, weird observations written on hotel room stationary, annotated stoicisms, photographs galore, and some hilarious asides. When taken together with its companion, Meet the Eels, the two form a better blueprint for how these kinds of collections should be done. Rather than try to paste it all togeter in a box set, giving people a load of stuff they already have, you can do a basic hits collection with a bonus DVD, providing it contains all the videos. Then, especially for the fanatics, plug in something to cover most if not all of the holes in the tracks, replace bootleg versions, and add an unreleased concert to the mix to make it irresistible. It's still marketing, but at least it's semi-honest. The Essential Eels collection contained those videos for the sake of a kind of complete-ism (and to get the hardcore faithful to buy both sets). It's understandable but utterly questionable. Trinkets would have been perfect had it contained those videos as well as the concert on a single DVD -- there was room. But as it is, it's not to be missed for having the marginal asides collected so handsomely and carefully.
Words: Thom Jurek
For Eels fans, and especially those obsessed with Mark Oliver Everett, the man who created and fronts the ever-changing lineup as well as writing its songs, 2008 kicked off anything but quietly. Despite a mere six studio and one live record in the band's catalog, E and Universal/Geffen have issued what amounts to a truckload of backlog material on two separate -- some would say excessive -- releases: Meet the Eels: Essential Eels 1996-2006, Vol. 1, a CD/DVD package, and Useless Trinkets: B-Sides, Soundtracks, Rarities, and Unreleased 1996-2006. The latter includes two discs of music and a live DVD documenting the band's 2006 Lollapalooza performance.
Meet the Eels is, arguably, the way a "hits" compilation should be presented, to fans as well as the merely curious. It's loaded to the gills with 24 cuts that include the unreleased "Get Ur Freak On." The rest of this monster is culled with cuts from Beautiful Freak (four) Electro-Shock Blues (two), plus an unissued remix of "Climbing to the Moon," by Jon Brion.This decade gets the lion's share of the material naturally, with four tunes from 2000s Daisies of the Galaxy, and a trio off 2001's Souljacker; a pair of tunes were tacked on from Shootenanny! (still the most confounding toss of the band's history), and a whopping five from Blinking Lights and Other Revelations. The latter was the band's best-selling record and yet it's still debated hotly among fans. One thing is for sure: for the first time since Beautiful Freak it drew new listeners in droves. Also included here for some unfathomable reason is "Dirty Girl," from the Live at Town Hall offering, and luckily, "I Need Some Sleep," from the soundtrack album for Shrek 2. Right, you guessed it, nothing here comes from A Man Called E, making it an incomplete Everett document, but it's close enough.
Simply put, there is no reason to go into the track choices, they are listed below and can be debated endlessly anyway. This tri-fold digipack is loaded with photos, E's own elliptical annotations for the tracks, and a wonderfully long and now legendary piece by Mark Edwards from the Sunday Times in London. Some of E's notes are clever, and some seem just plain tossed off, as if they are memories he really doesn't have any longer but needed to get down on paper for this. That's OK -- his very natural ambivalence is part of the appeal in his idiosyncratic, adventurous, and original songs. The DVD contains virtually every video the band shot and released for commercial play; they are compiled and available as a retail item for the first time. As great an introduction or mix the CD makes, it's the video collection that makes it all worth the cash. Given the kitchen sink approach of it, it offers an even more diverse and undebatable document; showcasing everything from original conceptions by directors to the escalator to the oblivion lineup changes. There is simply no better way to get acquainted with an enigma.
Words: Thom Jurek