Very rarely would I call a compilation cd a classic, but "Meet The eels: Essential Eels 1996-2006, Vol. 1" is as classic an album as any other "proper" album release that has been deemed a classic. As usual with compilations fans will quibble about songs that were excluded (For me, Mental off the debut album Beautiful Freak is one such song), but since ALL of the 24 songs included are excellent examples of E's superior songwriting genius, for once any criticism really is redundant. Song choices, sequencing, artwork, packaging - it's all extremely well-executed.
E's lyrics are often bittersweet. In 3 Speed he sings: "Life is funny, but not ha-ha funny". Even so, the lyrics are humorous and engaging. Lyric sample from That's Not Really Funny: "Did you think I would laugh, when you said I was small? Did you think that that would pass, as if nothing at all?"
Some of my personal favorites: Your Lucky Day In Hell, My Beloved Monster, Flyswatter, Souljacker Part 1, That's Not Really Funny, Fresh Feeling, (Hey Man) Now you're really Living, The Trouble with Dreams.
This compilation is a very good place to start your Eels collection.
"Useless Trinkets: B-sides, soundtracks, rarities and unreleased 1996-2006" is a nice companion piece, but not as essential as "Meet The Eels: Essential Eels 1996-2006, Vol. 1".