Not too long ago, rock stars were neither wrestlers nor keg tippers but bespectacled nerds who crafted sonic splendor in the solitude of their garages or bedrooms. Mark Everett — or E, as he has been calling himself for a decade — is one of these endangered species. The Eels, the collective in which he is the sole steadfast member, struck alt-rock gold with 1996’s ”Novocaine for the Soul” (from their debut ”Beautiful Freak” album).
But with each album since, E has worked overtime to avoid grunge-hit-wonder potholes and follow his own peculiar path. ”Electro-Shock Blues” (1998) was a clanking, tormented concept work about death and illness in E’s family, and Daisies of the Galaxy takes another idiosyncratic left turn.
A bit more sun-drenched than its predecessor, ”Daisies” finds E giving himself over to his inner loner — the freak at peace with his distance from the world around him. He may be forlorn in a breakup song, ”It’s a Motherf—er,” yet admits in ”I Like Birds” that he’d rather spend time with feathery friends than people anyway.
Ignoring the slightest whiff of trendiness, E sets these ruminations to shuffling mini-symphonies built on old-school instrumentation like electric pianos, organs, strings, marching-band brass, and banjo. The results are genuinely sublime pop like ”Jeannie’s Diary,” in which fulfillment would mean being a lengthy entry in a crush’s journal, and ”Selective Memory,” about fading images of his mother, whose imminent death was a subject of ”Electro-Shock Blues.”
For all his sentimentality, E rarely devolves into mawkishness. His slow, parched crawl of a voice ensures it, as does a dark sense of humor that, fittingly, owes more to Randy Newman than Eminem. ”Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues,” the first single, bounces and grinds along in an approximation of happiness — until you detect the references to suicidal girls and smog-clotted skies and realize the chorus (”Goddamn right, it’s a beautiful day”) is sarcastic. Naturally, the title is not found anywhere in the album’s packaging. It’s called an unlisted bonus track, and rock eccentrics like E wouldn’t have it any other way.