REVIEW: Eels - The Complete Dreamworks Albums

Eels: The Complete Dreamworks Albums boxset.
Eels: The Complete Dreamworks Albums boxset.
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Nicely timed for the Christmas market for the more discerning music fan is your life is this 8LP set bringing together the first five major albums by the American alternative rock band fronted by Mark Oliver Everett, otherwise known as E.

The main attraction for fans, and the one which will make this set so popular, is the inclusion, for the first time on vinyl, of the Electro-Shock Blues Show double live album, recorded at six different venues in 1998, much of it in the UK while on tour with Pulp.

With the double album Electro Shock Blues, that makes the set eight slabs of 180g vinyl in all, which accounts for the hefty three-figure price tag.

The set starts with 1996 debut album Beautiful Freak, a melancholy pop record with some tortured lyrics, and some of Eels’ best-loved songs, Novocaine For The Soul, Susan’s House and Your Lucky Day In Hell.

A No 5 hit in the UK, it includes much to commend it, including the tracks My Beloved Monster and Not Ready Yet.

Next up is Electro-Shock Blues, released two years later, and written largely in response to E’s sister suicide and his mother’s terminal lung cancer. An even more bleak offering than the debut, it didn’t sell too well, but the critics loved it.

With titles like Elizabeth On The Bathroom Floor and Going To Your Funeral Part 1, it’s not the most commercial album Eels would ever make, but it is one of their best-regarded, featuring soul-bearing songs such as Climbing To The Moon and Dead of Winter.

Third studio album Daisies Of The Galaxy (released in 2000) is a much more upbeat affair, featuring gems like I Like Birds, the bludgeoning Flyswatter, It’s A Mother****** and Mr E’s Beautiful Blues.

E was obviously at the peak of a creative wave, and fourth album Souljacker followed just 18 months later. Its US release was delayed, due to the lack of ‘radio-friendly singles’, but this contains some of the band’s finest work, including Dog Faced Boy and the (by E’s standards) gloriously upbeat Fresh Feeling.

The studio part of the set concludes with 2003’s Shootenanny!, which was recorded almost live in the studio, with minimal production. Eels’ last for Dreamworks, it’s not their best, but still boasts songs of the calibre of Saturday Morning, Love Of The Loveless and Dirty Girl.

A reaction to being told the previous album had no singles – possibly? Or maybe the well had just run a little dry at this point.

The set’s piece de resistance is the live album, which is again spread over four sides of vinyl. Eight of the 15 tracks are taken from the Electro-Shock Blues album, with the highlights including the opening Cancer For The Cure, and Last Stop: This Town.

The first album provides four tracks: Flower, Not Ready Yet, a very different arrangement of Novocaine … and My Beloved Monster, given a Rolling Stones makeover.

Interestingly, it features Souljacker Part I, still two years away from being released, Fingertips Part III, which is, as far as I can tell, exclusive to this album, and the B-side Everything’s Gonna Be Cool This Christmas.

It’s a typical Eels show in that it confounds what you’re expecting of it, and even have to think twice what a couple of the better-known songs are, due to totally revamped arrangements.

Most of the albums in the set are available to buy separately on vinyl if you have a favourite.

The exception is the live one, and you’d have to wonder if that’s because they know that truly devoted fans will have them all already, but still shell out £100+ for this set.

If so, that stinks, and devalues a great set from one of today’s most under-rated artists. 8/10. GW