Eels have been one of the most inventive and adventurous indie-rock groups of the last 20 years. Led by E, the band's mercurial singer-songwriter, the group has followed in the path of artists like Tom Waits and Randy Newman, weaving a powerfully idiosyncratic spell over listeners. There are so many great songs to choose from, but here are the 10 best introductions to Eels' genius.
How best to capture the gently unnerving quality of being asleep and dreaming? With "Trouble With Dreams," E licks the problem by utilizing dime-store keyboards, ticking clocks, disembodied background vocals, and heartbeat drums. In "Dreams," the singer-songwriter addresses the yawning chasm between our aspirations and our realities. In the process, he's concocted a song that's both ethereal and spooky.
More than a decade and a half into Eels' career, E kept springing surprises on 2010's Tomorrow Morning. The soulful "Looking Up" has the life-affirming fervor of gospel music, and E proudly proclaims his love for a woman who's got him feeling optimistic about the future. He's so happy, in fact, that the female backup vocalists are actually just him whooping and testifying.
Inspired by nostalgia for the freedom of childhood, "Saturday Morning" celebrates those long-gone days when the weekend was filled with endless possibilities as you and your buddies just went outside and played. The garage-rock guitars capture all the exuberance of a happy memory that can't last.
On Hombre Lobo, E adopted the persona of a lonely wolfman looking for love. "Fresh Blood" is the album's creepiest, horniest cut, as Eels craft a horror-movie soundtrack for this tale of seduction. But it's not too scary: E's sardonic sense of humor shines through at every moment, providing this fright-night sojourn with a little campy goodwill.
In "Last Stop: This Town," the singer addresses a friendly ghost who wants to revisit his or her old stomping grounds. One of the highlight tracks from Electro-Shock Blues, an album suffused with anguish about the loss of a loved one -- E's sister had recently committed suicide, and his mother was dying of cancer -- "Last Stop: This Town" is comparatively lighthearted, suggesting that even in death, those close to us still live on in some form.
A song recorded at the last minute for Daisies of the Galaxy at the request of label executives who insisted that the album needed a single, "Mr. E's Beautiful Blues" is buoyant indie-rock that fervently attests that "Goddamn right, it's a beautiful day," even if everything seems to be going wrong. The song didn't turn out to be a hit, but it remains one of Eels' most enduring, sunny songs.
Eels have written plenty of sad songs, but "I'm Going to Stop Pretending That I Didn't Break Your Heart" may be the saddest of the bunch. Set around Christmas as the narrator contemplates a love affair that used to be, this Blinking Lights and Other Revelations ballad bristles with longing and regret, amplified by the wobbly melancholy of a musical saw.
For Souljacker, E wanted to indulge his rock side, and the opening track set the tone. Filled with fat guitar riffs and bad attitude, "Dog Faced Boy" tells the story of a physically repellant young man forced to make his way in the cruel world. E has rarely bellowed with such relish.
Is "Climbing to the Moon" a song about suicide? The lyrics don't make it clear, but this heartbreaking, beautiful tune introduces us to a person suffering from mental anguish who just wants it to be over. E leaves the song's ending ambiguous, leaving us to wonder if any relief will ever come for the poor narrator.
Most people heard of Eels thanks to this huge alternative-rock hit from their debut album. A delectable piece of tart self-loathing, "Novocaine for the Soul" brings together funky keyboards and a beautiful pop melody while E sings about the relief he seeks for an unhappy spirit. In the midst of '90s grunge, this song mimicked the era's misery but also offered a welcome relief from it.