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The 11 best Eels songs

Why have a Top 10 when you can have one more? Here are our 11 favourite songs by Eels, ranked

Over nearly three decades, Eels have fenced off a sizeable plot of land just to the left of the mainstream. With just frontman E (aka Mark Oliver Everett) as a constant, they’ve become stewards of the downhearted, downtrodden and downbeat, the misfits who just don’t fit in anywhere else. There’s a very good reason they’re the only band to feature on three consecutive Shrek soundtracks.

As Eels prepare to hit the UK in support of their latest album, 2022’s Extreme Witchcraft – as well as reissues of Hombre Lobo, End Times and Tomorrow Morning, out on March 17 – we’ve gone back over their 14 studio albums and picked our 11 favourite tracks.

11. Souljacker Part I

(Souljacker, 2002)

Souljacker marked a shift from deeply personal songs to vignettes about lives outside E’s own. That change makes sense when you consider it was written as a reprieve from the construction of the ambitious (and deeply personal) double album Blinking Lights And Other Revelations. It also contains some of the band’s hardest rocking songs, especially the title track, which takes on the era’s glut of garage rock bands and bests them with one hand tied behind its back.

10. Hey Man, Now You’re Really Living

(Blinking Lights And Other Revelations, 2005)

There’s a sense with Eels’ happier songs (which are often not that happy when you stop and listen properly) that you’re just happy E is happy. Still, even a hand-clappy, wide-eyed bop like ‘Hey Man, Now You’re Really Living’ can’t stay on the sunny side, but that’s the whole point: living life to the fullest is about the balance between joy and feeling like it’s all falling apart.

9. I’m Going To Stop Pretending That I Didn’t Break Your Heart

(Blinking Lights And Other Revelations, 2005)

Is there a sadder song title? Not unless someone’s got one called ‘The Puppies All Drowned In The Orphan’s Tears’. “I never thought enough of myself to realise / That losing me could mean something like the tears in your eyes” is crushing enough, but E delivers it with a shrug, like someone who just can’t imagine meaning that much to another person.  

8. I Need Some Sleep

(Shrek 2 Original Soundtrack, 2006)

The Shrek soundtracks are an odd bunch, placing Jennifer Saunders covering ‘Holding Out For A Hero’ next to Nick Cave and Tom Waits. Eels’ gorgeous, weary ‘I Need Some Sleep’ is closer to the latter two, mainly in that it’s way too dark to be on the soundtrack to a dayglo kids’ animation. Over a distorted music box, E slips in and out of falsetto as fatigue leads his mind down dark alleys. It’s a lullaby for anyone too consumed by anxiety to ever properly turn off.

7. End Times

(End Times, 2010)

End Times was part of a trilogy of albums the band released in 2010, but even over three albums worth of material, ‘End Times’ stands out. A stark, quiet ballad, its tale of apocalyptic heartbreak relies for the most part on just E’s rasp and a clean, ringing electric guitar. Not enough words are written about the consistently outstanding guitar tone on Eels records.

6. Not Ready Yet

(Beautiful Freak, 1996)

Speaking of guitar tone… Just listen to the intro to ‘Not Ready Yet’. Those shimmering notes are perfect but once you hear the fuzz, you’re on the edge of your seat, willing it to come back. There are many examples of the band’s supreme command of loud/quiet dynamics, but few as good as this.

5. Climbing To The Moon

(Electro-Shock Blues, 1998)

E’s sister Elizabeth died from suicide in 1996. Through all the anger and grief that must have followed, ‘Climbing To The Moon’ is all the more remarkable for how empathetic it is. Whether that’s E truly understanding his sister’s pain or trying to process her death by putting himself in her shoes, his plainly put lyrics hit so much harder than if he’d danced around the topic in metaphors. Overwhelmingly sad and beautiful.

4. That Look You Give That Guy

(Hombre Lobo, 2010)

It’s hard to separate this highlight off Hombre Lobo from its charming video where E’s date with Padma Lakshmi is hijacked by his dog. Both song and video are utterly perfect. The brilliance of E’s songwriting is the same thing that made his autobiography, Things The Grandchildren Should Know, so compelling: there are few people out there who can match him for plain-spoken profundity. “That look you give that guy / I want to see / Looking back at me” is the purest expression of anguished, heartsick envy.

3. Last Stop: This Town

(Electro-Shock Blues, 1998)

Eels can be inconsolably downbeat or they can be delightfully downbeat. This is very much the latter, E crafting one of the band’s best songs out of a dream where he goes flying around his hometown with his sister’s ghost, a kind of It’s A Wonderful Life where the epiphany comes to late to save anyone. The sprightly music hides some of E’s saddest lyrics.

2. Novocaine For The Soul

(Beautiful Freak, 1996)

“Life is hard / And so am I.” It’s an introduction for the ages. In a crackly burst of samples, music box tinkling and raspy deadpan, Eels set out their stall for decades to come. Its trip-hop inflected slacker indie vibes are very much of its time, but ‘Novocaine For The Soul’ has still aged better than most of its peers. One of the greatest indie rock anthems of the 90s.

1. Grace Kelly Blues

(Daisies Of The Galaxy, 1998)

Electro-Shock Blues found E at a worryingly low point. Written in the wake of the deaths of his mother and his sister, the whole album felt like someone drowning in grief. Two years later, Daisies Of The Galaxy opens with the gorgeous ‘Grace Kelly Blues’, a whistlestop tour through a cast of characters who are all putting a brave face on life’s disappointments. Its final verse sees Everett turn his lens on himself: “But me, I’m feeling pretty good as of now / I’m not so sure when I got here or how / Sun melting the fake smile away / I think you know I’ll be ok.” The sincerity in that last line could bring a statue to tears.

Eels are on tour from 26 March 2023 – get tickets here