Concrete And Clay

Mark Everett likes birds.

The last eels album, 1998's Electro-Shock Blues focused on madness and death — certainly understandable, given that Mark Everett (a.k.a. the eels) had just lost his sister to suicide and his mother to cancer. On Daisies of the Galaxy, the singer/songwriter is still dealing with loss, but the anger has mutated into something more emotionally accessible — a haunting melancholia that alternates between the funky groove and the acoustic ballad, with the specter of Beck hovering over the one sound, and that of R.E.M. over the other.

Neither reference point should be a surprise. Everett shares in common with Beck an L.A. base, a guttural vocal delivery, clever wordplay and an early producer in Dust Brother Michael Simpson. And with Peter Buck contributing guitar, bass and piano, it's hardly a shock that R.E.M.'s chord structures and arrangements should also bleed through Everett's work. Yet, if the dirty beats and oddly reassuring pessimism of "Flyswatter" and "Tiger in My Tank" (RealAudio excerpt) find ready takers among Midnite Vultures deserters, and the faint optimism of "Wooden Nickels" and "Something Is Sacred" resonates with those moved by R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts." Experienced eels followers will be delighted to hear Everett so grippingly expressive.

That said, two of the strongest songs here fall outside the sad tone that otherwise binds the album. "Jeannie's Diary" (RealAudio excerpt) is a wonderful (and, apparently, nearly decade-old) paean to youthful obsession; "I don't have a chance at writing the book," Everett sings softly of a perfect, unattainable girl. "I just want to be a page in Jeannie's Diary." The album also bounces back to life following its seemingly final song with an interesting piece called "Mr. E's Beautiful Blues." Produced by the aforementioned Simpson, the "bonus" song seems to be a (record company-suggested?) attempt by Everett to write a hit — which would explain not only the forced happiness of the chorus ("God damn right it's a beautiful day"), but also why the track is stickered on the cover yet absent from the official track listing.

If indeed "Mr. E's Beautiful Blues" (RealAudio excerpt) is a result of that neverending battle between commerce and creativity, it's nonetheless a buoyant note with which to conclude what's clearly been a personally tragic, but artistically productive, few years for the Man Called E.