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.