Eels (no "The," just "Eels") have had a long, storied, interesting, musically adventurous career, but for a lot of people it stopped in 1996. Hell, for a fair amount of people most things alternative rock stopped in 1996, but I digress. The thing is, they've released a full nine albums since, two of which are probably better than Beautiful Freak, and all of which have a smattering of songs that I consider better than their 1996 uber-smash single. There's always going to be that crowd, isn't there? The play-the-hit crowd. They'll be there in full force when Eels hit Dallas on Thursday at the Granada. That song's not even that good, guys. Try these ones.
5. "Dog-Faced Boy," from Souljacker Often E plays this live while playing the piano with one hand, a floor tom with the other hand, and singing. The whole song just straight-up rocks, with a superb hook and some great howling. The great part, however, is one of the best choruses ever -- "Ma won't shave me/Jesus can't save me/Dog-faced boy." Then a howl.
4. "Fresh Blood," from Hombre Lobo Showing off the breadth of Eels' sound, the stand-out track from the recent trilogy of albums is an uncompromising account of the problems inherent in vampirism. Or something like that. Either way, this song has a lot more going on than that one single they have. Chorus features a lot of howling. I'm noticing a theme developing here.
3. "Hey Man (Now You're Really Living)," from Blinking Lights and Other Revelations One thing that's constantly impressing about Eels is their versatility. They'll be an entirely different band from tour to tour. Not only is this a great, incredibly catchy, upbeat number off 2005's fantastic double-sided autobiographical album, but check out how they re-tooled it, mandolin and all, for Eels with Strings, the live album featuring Eels with, well, strings. 2. "Climbing to the Moon," from Electro-Shock Blues There are those that argue Electro-Shock Blues is Eels' finest work, and it's difficult to imagine a more emotionally affecting album. Coming off the back of the suicide of E's sister and the death from cancer of his mother, Eels delivered an incredibly intense record that was a critical smash but a commercial failure, due to the departure in sound from that single we're not talking about. That's not really fair, guys. "Climbing to the Moon" is the best example of E-SB's virtuoso verse-chorus-verse songwriting, with a middle eight that packs a wallop.
1. "Flyswatter," from Daisies of the Galaxy The best example in Eels' canon of their incredible ability to just write a memorable tune that's not too complex, not too simple, but just right. Not only can I not think of any song with a xylophone hook this good, it's worth checking out any Eels bootlegs you can find just to see how many different variations this song has gone through. Contrast the Electro-Shock Blues Show version with the Eels With Strings version, and you can see how not only is E constantly writing new material, but totally re-imagining all his old stuff as well.
It's worth mentioning that I once saw Eels book the wrong venue in England and end up playing in a small town hall to about 100 people, with stage lighting of two lightbulbs. Rather than pack up and go home, they played seven encores, constantly coming back out after whatever passed for "house lights" had come back on. Definitely a great live band. Go check them out on Thursday. They won't play that song you want.