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 Freakalbum). 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. A-