Mark Eitzel is one of those musicians who perhaps isn’t as well known as he should be but he can always be relied on to make wonderfully evocative albums filled with deep melancholia and meaning. He’s been doing just that since the early 1980’s across several solo albums and with the brilliant American Music Club. Eitzel songs are often wrought with emotion and steeped in pain, misery and regret. That stew doesn’t always make for an easy listening experience but it does mean that whatever he does is well worth listening to. Previous solo albums like ‘Candy Ass’ and ‘Kalamath’ have always been distictly different to his albums with AMC but this time out he has former Suede stalwart in the producers chair and weilding his inventive and evocative guitar playing. Its almost as if Eitzel has accepted the demise of AMC and has realised that he needs to appeal to a broader church. I have to say that, for me, this approach works really well and probably makes this his most satisfying album to date.
The album kicks off with ‘The Last Ten Years’ and right away the wonderful playing of Mr Butler shines through as Mark wails about having spent “the last 10 years trying to fill half an hour”. Perhaps he’s trying to tell us about the growing pains of making an album? Throughout his storied career his lyrics have veered from oblique and obscure to so painfully cutting that sometimes you can’t avoid a sharp intake of breath. A case to point is the compelling ‘Everything and Nothing’ that chronicles the destruction of a relationship by domestic violence as he painfully sings of the cowardice and demons of the perpetrator and his victims fear as he sings of “beating your face in the taxi when the driver calls the cops”. It’s a harrowing account of an all too common problem and Eitzel’s mournful vocal paints a desparate picture.
Butler’s contribution as a musician right across the album is impressively unobtrusive in all the right places but swells and grows when the songs demand it. The arrangements, presumably by both parties, are often sparse and bear but Butler’s guitar is a constant presence and both decorates and enhances the songs. Perhaps the best example of this is on ‘The Road’ where the guitar floats in the background throughout the song as Eitzel sings of “losing the battle to win a fight”. The song concludes with a wonderful coda as the guitar wells up with a short but impressive flurry of notes that, for me, recalls the fluid playing of the great Free guitarist Paul Kossoff.
Mark has always had a gift of producing weird somg titles (‘Johnny Mathis’ Feet’ anyone?) and right here we have ‘In My Role of a Professional Singer and Ham’ which is rather obscure in terms of meaning but drips again with more fluid playing from Mr Butler as the song builds to an almost symphonic climax. My favourite here though, by some distance, is the mysterious ‘La Llorna’ that again builds to wonderful peak with guitar and voice in a tasteful tandem. I was sufficiently impressed to do a little research and quickly discovered that ‘La Llorna’ is based on an hispanic folk tale about a weeping woman who is betrayed by her faithless husband and drowns her children to deny him their love. There’s perhaps flecks of the tale in the song but its well hidden!
All too often music of quality and distinction like this is lost in our celebrity and fame obsessed culture where the only things that seem to matter are sales and beauty. With this terrific album we have an outstanding set of songs from an artist with a unique talent and real class. So, I urge you to go out and buy this record and listen to it. Then search out his solo back catalouge and the albums with the splendiderous American Music Club and listen to them too. Then head on down to the intimitate surroundings of the Cluny on 10 March and watch Mr Eitzel deliver a heart wretching set. You won’t be dissapointed.
See you at the next gig.....