The Eels release a great grab bag of extra material on their two-disc (plus DVD), fifty-track release, Useless Trinkets: B-Sides, Soundtracks, Rarities and Unreleased, 1996-2006. The band surrounding singer/songwriter Mark Oliver Everett hasn’t released a new album since 2005’s Blinking Lights and Other Revelations, or anything since the following year’s Eels with Strings: Live At Town Hall, yet they open this year with both a b-sides and rarities collection and a greatest hits album, Meet The Eels (QRO review). While that was a tour through Eels essentials, this Trinkets is more of a tour through Eels inessentials, a scatter-shot with some hits, some misses, and a lot in between.
As the title indicates, Useless Trinkets derives from a number of sources, and so does its best pieces. The slow, sad, and rather touching “Stepmother” was the b-side to “Susan’s House”, while the catchy and cute piano jaunt “Vice President Fruitley” was on the “Flyswatter” single. The high and bright, wistful-Beatles “Dog’s Life” came from the Welcome to Woop Woop soundtrack, while another canine number, “Christmas Is Going To the Dogs”, is a fun, down-home holiday carol from Music From the O.C: Mix 3 – Have a Very Merry Chrismukkah. BBC sessions gave up the melodic and charming “Open the Door”, while the smooth-sounding expanse of “Estranged Friends” and sweet, stripped “I Want To Protect You” are previously unreleased. Also new to the light of day is a great, pressing live version of “I Like Birds”; along with the rollicking “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man”, these two live tracks are the record’s pinnacle, both containing healthy doses of crowd participation.
Of course, with fifty songs, none of which made it onto a full-length, there’s a lot that can be skipped over. Much of Useless Trinkets is slow and stripped-down, and while a few rise above and most aren’t bad, they really tend to run together. The more orchestral numbers are even more unremarkable, and there are far too many alternate versions of The Eels’ so-so Shrek contribution, “My Beloved Monster” – though the lo-fi funk of “Mr. E’s Beautiful Remix” is a great remix of a great song. The accompanying DVD, not wowing in video quality, consists of footage of six songs from Lollapalooza 2006; Everett, behind beard, shaded goggles, and olive-drab fatigues is less noticeable than ‘Krazy Al’, their ultra-macho, dancing security guard, who pumps iron during songs, and runs into the crowd to high-five fan or spray whip cream in their mouths.
Just three years ago, B-Sides & Rarities 1996-2003 was released, making Useless Trinkets even less necessary (in fact, over a third of Trinkets was also featured on the 2005 record). You might not need Trinkets is you’re not a loyal fan, but that doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy it when you hear it.