Meet the Eels: Essential Eels Vol. 1 1996-2006 Useless Trinkets: B-Sides, Soundtracks, Rarities and Unreleased 1996-2006 (Geffen)

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Eels alt-rock Sparklehorse

Eels has always been a mixed bag. For more than a decade, the group has blended Todd Rundgren's symphonic impulses with Sparklehorse's bedroom pastiche, rounding it all out with a dose of Elliott Smith-style bittersweetness. It's adored for these qualities overseas. In the U.S., however, it's little more than a cult band that scored a freak radio hit with "Novocaine for the Soul" in the mid-'90s.

Mark Oliver Everett has released six albums as the brains behind Eels since 1996. They all vary in style, depending on who's backing him at the time. There's the bleak idiosyncratic pop of 1998's Electro-Shock Blues, straight-up rock on 2001's Souljacker, and even rootsy power pop on 2003's Shootenanny! Each includes bizarro arrangements and totally random noise bursts, like the clanging clouds of static and fuzz that skitter around the edges of fan fave "That's Not Really Funny."

The 24 tracks on Meet the Eels rank among Everett's most accessible: "Mr. E's Beautiful Blues," "Hey Man (Now You're Really Living)," etc. But the compilation neglects several songs — like "Rock Hard Times," "Cancer for the Cure," and "Dog Faced Boy" — that cultists worship. Longtime supporters are better served by Useless Trinkets, which gathers 50 scraps (including BBC sessions, alternate versions, and live cuts ) from Eels' entire career.

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