Eccentric amp; eclectic Eels

by Beacon Staff • March 26, 2008

The Eels are not a band known for their legacy. For most, mentioning the Eels does not conjure up thoughts of a complex library of music or a magnitude of hit singles. This loud rock trio has been around for well over ten years, however, and their catalogue is anything but minuscule.

A rock band's canon is typically a chronicling of the band's history as well as a detailed roadmap through the minds of the musicians involved. The oeuvre is tangible evidence of the years of the sweat, tears and rock that went into each of a band's showcases-and on March 31 they'll be exhibiting their cathartic sound at the Somerville Theatre.

With most bands' albums, there is a multitude of material that's either left on the studio floor or shuffled off to the backburner, where it may or may not see the light of day on the next album. Collections of these rare (and often unfinished) tracks and studio B-sides have recently been taking off, and fans of artists like Elliott Smith and Gorillaz are finally being given the opportunity to listen to these once-unofficial songs and demos.

For the Eels, it's been a long time coming. Twelve years and six albums later, the alternative rock band is unleashing Useless Trinkets, a 50-track collection of b-sides, previously unreleased songs and demos, as well as Meet the Eels: Essential Eels Vol. I, a greatest hits collection. The release of these compilation albums is more than just a milestone in the band's history, but a musical journey through the Eels' triumphant (though dark) rise to fame as well.

These days, you'll often find Mr. E (Mark Everett, the band's front man) sporting dark aviators, sharpening his sound, and constantly honing the style of the music that appears on each album. Their music often feels void of any doubt, and while their lyrics are sometimes playful and ironic, there is a distinct assertiveness pulsing through each song. It's difficult not to take every track seriously-to believe in the smarmy rock music that comes spiraling out of the speakers like meat out of a grinder. Underneath all of the distortion and feedback, you can almost see Everett smirk. If it feels as though each track is laced with irony. It's not coincidental given the circumstances of the band's still-growing success.

Eels singer/songwriter Mark Everett is better known in the industry as "E," "Mr. E" or "Man Called E." The names are rather simple but memorable nonetheless; quintessential nicknames for a rock band's front man. Everett's story, however, is even more reminiscent of a vintage rock 'n' roll fairytale. After his father's death, Everett's teenage years took a turn for the worse. His grades began to fall; he was expelled from school and eventually arrested. Soon after, he taught himself how to play his sister's guitar, taking solace in music during a tumultuous teenage life.

After releasing a few LPs in the 80s and early 90s, Everett collaborated with Jonathan "Butch" Norton and Tommy Walter and created Beautiful Freak in 1996. The album would be the first from a trio that called themselves the Eels, a name chosen because E wanted his solo work to alphabetically appear next to the Eels records in stores.

After the success of Beautiful Freak, the fairytale soon took a turn for the worse. Many of Everett's friends passed away, his mother was diagnosed with cancer and his sister committed suicide. What followed was the 1998 release of Electro-Shock Blues, a melancholy album that focuses on the darker themes of death, abandonment and suicide. Sadly, the album's American tour was canceled after Everett's mother passed away. Everett once noted to MusicianGuide.com, "Electro-Shock Blues was the phone call in the middle of the night that the world doesn't want to answer."

Despite this period of almost insurmountable grief, Everett continued to play. If a guitar had helped him find his way as a teenager, what's stopping it from doing the same at age 35? 2003's Shootenanny! was generally well-received and continues to be a favorite amongst Eels fans.

Thumbing through the track list of the Eels discography, E's bumpy road to rock 'n' roll success is easily traceable. Each album is another loud, invigorated chapter in a never-ending story of noisy grunge-rock narrative in which the protagonist refuses to abandon his ambitions regardless of the obstacles in his life. And those are always the best stories.