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Foregoing the darker sounds of his last Eels effort (1998's Electro-shock Blues) and the post-grunge surge of his band's debut (1996's Beautiful Freak), Mark Oliver "E" Everett is up to his old tricks again on Daisies of the Galaxy. Using the studio talents of hip friends Grant Lee Phillips (on bass), R.E.M.'s Peter Buck (piano, guitar and bass) and longtime drummer Butch, E's tunes haven't sounded this fresh and lively since his toy-piano days back in the early-'90s.

Although he has yet to recapture the quaintness of "Are You and Me Gonna Happen," (from 1992's A Man Called E), E's sparse soundscapes, friendly melodies and menagerie of instruments are a fitting backdrop for his ironic, sometimes Dylanesque storytelling. ("If I lay my head down/I will see you in my dream/Wearing that polka dot dress/And sitting by the stream/I wish I could remember/But my selective memory won't let me," he sings in Daisies' "Selective Memory").

Tinged with black humor, many of E's songs are at once comical and full of melancholy. "It's a Mother#%*@#*" is sad and poignant, even though its title earned the band a parental advisory sticker; "Grace Kelly Blues," inspired by a Paris mime, is a hummable mandolin-and-horn number that could be a Tom Waits or even Kurt Weill composition (if either had been born past 1965).

In the end, the Eels' Daisies may earn the band a few new hits, but E, thank goodness, will never be an alterna-rocker has-been. For this clever writer, songs such as "Flyswatter" and "Tiger in My Tank" (rescued from their own accessibility by bells, organs and operatic female backing vocals) are just the tip of the iceberg.

The Eels perform at the Tabernable on Thurs. April 20.

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