It’s typical of the Eels that their first collection of B-sides, rarities and remixes should be modestly termed Useless Trinkets, as if they were about to be sent off to a car boot sale but someone remembered to copy them for posterity just before the truck came to pick them up.
Nothing could be further from the truth of course. While Meet The Eels introduces us to Mark ‘E’ Everett and to a lesser extent his band with choice singles and melodies aplenty, Useless Trinkets takes us further underneath the surface, dirty laundry and all. We emerge blinking slightly, but proclaim ourselves all the better for the experience.
The collection is incredibly well put together and features music of startling variety and emotional intensity. Not for the Eels the whiff of desperation many bands exude when compiling a collection of this nature. No, we’re straight in at the deep end with a song called Fucker. Yet this is the Eels, and they refute convention by making this a graceful song of sweet fragility, until E’s final words curdle the blood – “I hate you, fucker”.
As befits a band recording an advertisement of just one second in length for the Super Bowl this year, what also comes across is the incredible concision of expression E is able to achieve. Many of his songs are over in two to three minutes. After The Operation is a sharply focussed and deeply felt song of an even smaller timespan. His time under the knife complete, the songwriter dreams of an immediate return to full health, while he’s “laying on the couch and watching TV”. It’s one of many surprisingly moving sentiments, taking place over slowly moving church organ chords.
Fans will love it, for its inclusion of live favourites and live versions, with I Like Birds particularly humourous and enjoyable. There are remixes of the earlier material, proving its remarkable flexibility. Novocaine For The Soul brings E to his knees in a deadpan interpretation, first up, then stretches out synthesizer loops and lines to comedic effect on the Moog Cookbook version.
Elsewhere the rewards are aplenty. Dog’s Life finds E ruminating on the pros of “just laying in the sun”, Everything’s Gonna Be Cool This Christmas brings sleigh bells and cranked up guitar laced with barbed humour, while the dark blues of the alternate version of Dog Faced Boy chill to the bone. Living Life, meanwhile, charms with its lyric “we’re an unlikely couple, Doris Day and Mott The Hoople”.
But these are mere snapshots of a collection offering no fewer than fifty songs, with the added bonus of a short disc of visuals. For any Eels fan worth their sort it will be a mandatory purchase, yet for one just acclimatising to the band it should be too.