American Music Club
(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
Restless Stranger, 6/10
Engine, 7.5/10
California, 8.5/10
United Kingdom, 7/10
Everclear, 7.5/10
Mercury, 6.5/10
San Francisco, 6/10
Mark Eitzel: 60 Watt Silver Lining, 6/10
Mark Eitzel: West, 6/10
Mark Eitzel: Caught In A Trap , 6/10
Mark Eitzel: The Invisible Man, 6/10
Mark Eitzel: Music For Courage And Confidence , 4/10
Love Songs For Patriots (2004), 5/10
Mark Eitzel: Candy Ass (2005), 4/10
Golden Age (2008), 5/10
Links:

Summary:
American Music Club stood apart in the late 1980s as one of the groups that transformed roots-rock into an intimate, almost transcendental experience. Mark Eitzel's laconic pessimism, halfway between Gram Parsons's calm despair, Nick Drake's funereal lament, and Tim Buckley's dreamy agony, acted as the center of mass for the atmospheric psychodramas of Engine (1987). The dialectics between instruments (including hazy snippets of strings and keyboards) and vocals punctuated the otherwise evanescent melodies of Big Night, At My Mercy, Outside This Bar, in a manner that was also reminiscent of Van Morrison. Eitzel's stream of consciousness reached for a visceral tension on California (1988), a work that was both more austere and more introverted. Firefly, Bad Liquor, Blue And Grey Shirt and Highway 5 were not songs but swoons of communication breakdown. The band indulged in psychological impressionism, letting Eitzel's words fluctuate in a mist of emotions. It was also a vocal tour de force of Eitzel, who followed his stories modulating both anger and romance, impersonating both the crooner and the shouter. The bleak and lyrical United Kingdom (1989) seemed to complete Eitzel's spiritual self-flagellation, besides absorbing more of the jazz, soul and gospel eloquence for tracks as adventurous as The Hula Maiden and Heaven Of Your Hands. The nightmare relented on Everclear (Alias, 1990), the album that marked a transition from the "closed" landscape of the first phase to the "open" landscape of the second phase. Less intense but more humane, only a couple of moments (The Confidential Agent and Miracle On 8th Street) recalled past agonies, but the playing was more accomplished and the arrangements more articulate. The more complex, dense and atmospheric sound Mercury (1993), which features The Hopes And Dreams of Heaven's 10,000 Whores, and the sophisticated soul-pop of San Francisco (1994), capitalized on Eitzel's ability to merge elegant melancholy and roaring passion.
(Translation from the Italian by Nicole Zimmerman)

Mark Eitzel was one of the most important rock poets of the 90s. His career started with American Music Club, a folk-rock group which anticipated the flow of dark singers, and ended with solo albums. In both Eitzel expressed, with a frank timidness, a solemn existential pessimism. His diction modulated the philosophical tone of Gram Parsons, the grimness of Nick Drake, and the dreaminess of Tim Buckley.

Eitzel was born in San Francisco in 1959 but grew up in Columbus, Ohio. In 1980 he returned to San Francisco to try out for a rock group. In short, his formation was stabilized in a quartet which took the name American Music Club.

Restless Stranger (Grifter, 1985 - Warner Brothers, 1998) contained imposing, mournful stories of loneliness and nervous depression still marked by stylistic eclecticism of the new wave and perhaps influenced by the new British melodies. The falsetto lament of Room Above The Club suggested a country-western version by the Smiths, and Yvonne Gets Dumped, a hard-rock version by the same. Eitzel seemed a bit out of place in the emphatic crooning of Tell Yourself, somewhere between the styles of Cure and Nick Cave. The imprudent tone and martial tempo of $1,000,000 Song seemed as if it had come from the early Talking Heads. The tribal drumming and wild distortions in Mr. Lucky belonged to the punk era. The accompaniment by Mark "Vudi" Pankler on guitar and Brad Johnson on organ was a farm-yard folk-rock with a hint of garage sound.

The true character of Eitzel came to light elsewhere. Atmospheric psychodramas like Point of Desire and Away Down My Street lost their melodic thread and abandoned themselves to the delirium of the singer who "read" stories, which took place in an atmosphere of cosmic defeat.

Engine (Grifter, 1987) was recorded by a group that had profoundly changed. It was not just because of the loss of Johnson, or his replacement with stable guitarist Tom Mallon (who produced the first album), nor was it because of the new drummer. It was due to a new approach to the arrangements. The music was a folk-rock, which made use of metered interventions of arches, as well as keyboard which focused on the singing of Eitzel. The instrumental interventions were functions of his stories, not the other way around. This emphasized the lyrics instead of the melodies and rhythms. The heart of the album were the delicate domestic tragedies of Big Night - a song so bare as to arouse claustrophobia, of Mom's TV - the most lively and pathetic skit, and of Nightwatchman - with one of the most confused atmospheres, often skirting stagnation. The faintness of the borders between the dream-like visions and psychedelic hallucinations was evident in tracks like Asleep.

These songs lived under the banner of a skilled art form of fractured rhythms and debate between the instruments and vocals. At times the smooth stream of consciousness in crescendo reminded listeners of Van Morrison, but more maniacal (especially in At My Mercy). Tracks Outside This Bar (one of the best) and Clouds were of a totally different nature. They had ethereal melodies a' la Morrisey and were underscored by potent distortions of guitar for the riffs; they were completely outside of the deafening boogie of Art of Love. The visceral tension of the "rocker" was also at the service of the desperate existential malaise of Eitzel. Every note, every chord, every tone, every word, and every pause had the specific task of transmitting anguish.

In California (Grifter, 1988), the folk-rock sound was abandoned for a more austere sound. The introverted litanies of Eitzel went deeper and deeper into the universe of depressed vocalists. This was dark and impressionist music, immeasurably sad but also observant, bringing out the terrible emotions from unhappy personal situations. Eitzel sang in an agonizing whisper, while the rest of the group followed in a background counter-point. More communicative than usual in Firefly, with a melody sung beautifully at full volume and a languid West Coast sound of "steel" Hawaii-ana, Eitzel once again sank into his dark ruminations. Then there was the delicate serenade of Jenny, the folk song Lonely, and the dramatic portrayal in Pale Skinny Girl. These tracks used first rate melodies but were almost always immersed in shame - in a harmonic contest that was more adult, noble, and elegant than vulgar. Eitzel took advantage of an art form that was refined over the years by Cohen and many other vocalists. The softness falls away a little with each chord, ending in a delirious dream a' la Tim Buckley (Laughingstock and above all Blue and Grey Shirt), with the atmosphere of Highway 5. The music became pure emotion without a bit of harmony to support it.

Within the genre of electric ballads, which the group reinvented, they left behind the examples from Neil Young and Gram Parsons (the nervousness of the first, the fragility of the second) and carved out Somewhere. Bad Liquor (another classic) abandoned the blues style of Beefheart, and was as lively as it was oversized. The eclecticism of the group was at its peak, as was the tormented drama of Eitzel. California represented the height of expression for Eitzel and for all of the new school of vocalists. Mallon, who was the protagonist behind the arrangements, left after this album.

After changing drummers again, they produced United Kingdom (Grifter, 1989), which was in theory a collection of leftover live tracks. Eitzel, absolute leader, created a work with a gloomy mood. In this terrible psychological journey, his tormented ego portrayed the ruins in Never Mind (with almost imperceptible jazz-soul crooning), Dream Is Gone (a dissonant and chaotic departure, from a rocking junkie), and Kathleen (a duet between a hoarse cry by the singer and yelps on acoustic guitar); tracks in which the degree of musicality was reduced to the bare minimum, but exudes a fiery pathos. Eitzel emerged from the midst of the chords in Here They Roll Down, like Tim Buckley singing a gospel hymn while riding obsessive Celtic riffs, like Nick Drake in love with a shadow. He howls and moans like a blues master in The Hula Maiden, one of his masterpieces. The most serene moment was in Dreamers of the Dream - a country ballad with more rhythm and melody, and Heaven of your Hands, a lyrical serenade.

The arduous spiritual exercise (the self-flagellation type of ritual replicated in the first 4 albums), found an outlet in Everclear (Alias, 1990), partially composed in 1989. The stormy hymn Rise, the slow love song Why Won't You Stay, the novel dance tune Crabwalk, and the angry pleading of Dead Part of You, were by far the easiest tracks of Eitzel's career. The true psychedelic deliriums of The Confident Agent and Miracle on 8th Street, and the nervous ballad Sick of Food, constituted the link with the older American Music Club. This album brought to justice the many years of incomprehension, but it was not the group's best. Guitarist Bruce Kaplan joined the group and his tone was more relaxed than the current American Music Club. Everclear was hailed by critics (who had not heard the preceding albums) as the most important of the year. In reality, it represented a moment of transition for Eitzel, who increasingly performed solo as in Live (Demon, 1991) and sung as well with Toiling Midgets.

The drummer Tim Mooney from Toiling Midgets played on Mercury (Reprise, 1993) and completed what may have been the most mature grouping of American Music Club. The album flaunts a more complex sound in vivacious tracks (Keep Me Around and above all Johnny Mathis' Feet), and in the atmospheric tracks (Hopes And Dreams of Heaven's 10,000 Whores). Several tracks seemed to have lost their spoofs (above all the waltz Challenger). The lush arrangements of this album demonstrated a surprising descent from the art-rock group Genesis (Apology for an Accident).

San Francisco (Warner, 1994) continued the evolution begun in Mercury toward a more articulate style, with alternating moments of elegant melancholy (Fearless, Cape Canaveral) to roaring passion (It's Your Birthday, Wish the World Away). American Music Club became a sophisticated soul-rock group, along the lines of Bruce Springsteen, with Eitzel as an artful baritone. Perhaps too ironic and lighthearted (How Many Six Packs), perhaps trying too hard to emulate Abba in the catchy boogie tune of Hello Amsterdam, the album was devoid of inhibitions and fear: I Broke my Promise was a soul tune a' la Tamla, Revolving Door was filled with disco rhythms, and the like. The lyrics however, offered no compromises: life was a prison and there was no way to escape.

At this point, Eitzel decided to leave the group and go solo. 60 Watt Silver Lining (Warner, 1996) was a disappointment because he chose to sing like an elegant crooner in a cocktail lounge.

In Sacred Heart, Eitzel seemed like a cross between Morrisey, but more moody, and Van Morrison, but more tormented. In Cleopatra Jones, he seemed like Morrisey accompanied by a crafty group of Latino, funk, soul, and jazz sounds. For Saved, he seemed a pupil of Burt Bacharach, accompanied by a jazz trumpet played by Mark Isham. The problem was that this masquerade was of great interest to the public. Everything But The Girl was better at this. The pauses which had always been his forte, became suffocated by the arrangements, as if Eitzel was afraid that he'd sound like himself. In the end he seemed a bit verbose and a little hysterical.

This worked only in a couple of instances, Southend On Sea and Mission Rock Resort, which were also the most lively, thanks to the singer: the instrumental parts are so tight and refined that one cannot criticize.

The distinctive autumnal atmospheres in Always Turn Away, When my Plane Finally Goes Down, and Some Barthenders were islands in an ocean.

Also, the fact that he dedicated almost all his songs to San Francisco made them a little bothersome. It was possible that he had nothing left to sing of except for the romantic panorama and the sad events of his home town.

Eitzel collaborated with Pete Buck of REM in West (Warner, 1997). The album was more influenced by Buck than Eitzel: Eitzel wrote songs for guitar and piano while Buck arranged them to his liking. It has to be said that Eitzel abandoned the dull tones of the preceding album, replacing it with a mature balance of diction. A pair of melodies in Stunned And Frozen, a Celtic square dance, was counted among the top tracks of his career. The main protagonist was the arrangement, with subtle touches of orchestral piano, guitar, vibraphone, violin, marimba, tabla, conga drum, saxophone, and organ. In Your Life, Move Myself Ahead, and There Inches of Wall were the most catchy and lively tracks of his career.

In the end, this process ended up diluting his stories. However Eitzel found a way around this in Then It Really Happens, in which he created a style just as atmospheric that fits perfectly with the arrangement. It remains to be seen if solo, without Buck's help, he can reconstruct that painstaking mix of arrangements in the future.

Old Photographs and Helium remained faithful to his introverted and melancholy vocal style, and thus If You Have To Ask and Live or Die ran into the same problems as the preceding album, in the dull and soft cocktail lounge jazz atmosphere. Eitzel became prolific: he already had another album ready, Caught In A Trap (Matador), although perhaps too late to allow something greater to come through.

Mark Eitzel e` uno dei poeti rock piu` importanti degli anni '90. La sua carriera inizio` con gli American Music Club, gruppo titolare di un folk-rock sui generis che ha anticipato la corrente dei nuovi cantautori crepuscolari, ed e` poi proseguita con i dischi solisti. Nell'una e nell'altra veste, Eitzel ha espresso con franca timidezza un solenne pessimismo esistenziale. La sua dizione riesce a modulare il tono filosofico di Gram Parsons, quello funereo di Nick Drake, e quello trasognato di Tim Buckley.

Eitzel, nato a San Francisco nel 1959 e cresciuto a Columbus (Ohio), torno` a San Francisco nel 1980 alla testa di un complesso rock. In breve quella formazione si stabilizzo` in un quartetto che assunse il nome American Music Club.

A imporli furono i mesti racconti di solitudine e depressione nervosa di Restless Stranger (Grifter, 1985 - Warner Brothers, 1998), ancora improntati all'eclettismo stilistico della new wave e forse influenzati dal nuovo melodismo britannico. Il lamento in falsetto di Room Above The Club fa pensare a una versione country & western degli Smiths, e Yvonne Gets Dumped a una versione hard-rock degli stessi. Eitzel sembra un po' fuori luogo nel crooning enfatico di Tell Yourself, a meta` strada fra Cure e Nick Cave. Il tono sfrontato e il tempo marziale di $1,000,000 Song sembrano usciti dai primi dischi dei Talking Heads. Il battito tribale e le distorsioni selvagge di Mr Lucky appartengono all'era punk. L'accompagnamento di Mark "Vudi" Pankler (chitarra), Brad Johnson (organo) e' un ruspante folk-rock, con tinte da garage.
La vera indole di Eitzel viene alla luce altrove. Psicodrammi atmosferici come Point Of Desire e Away Down My Street perdono il filo della melodia e si abbandonano al delirio del cantante. Il quale "recita" storie che si svolgono in un clima di sconfitta cosmica.

Engine (Grifter, 1987) venne registrato da una formazione che era profondamente cambiata, e non soltanto per la perdita di Johnson e l'ingresso in pianta stabile del chitarrista Tom Mallon (che aveva prodotto il primo album) e di un nuovo batterista, ma per la nuova impostazione degli arrangiamenti. La musica e` un folk-rock che si avvale di dosatissimi interventi di archi e tastiere e che pone al centro il canto di Eitzel. Gli interventi strumentali sono funzione delle sue storie, e non viceversa. A risaltare sono cosi` le liriche, non le melodie o i ritmi. Il cuore del disco sono le delicate tragedie domestiche di Big Night, un brano cosi' nudo da incutere claustrofobia, di Mom's Tv, forse la sceneggiata piu' movimentata e piu' patetica, di Nightwatchman, con una delle sue atmosfere piu' catatoniche. Si lambisce spesso la stasi. E quanto labile sia il confine fra la visione onirica e l'allucinazione psichedelica e' evidente in brani come Asleep.
Queste canzoni vivono all'insegna di una sapiente arte di fratture ritmiche e di dialettica fra strumenti e canto. Talvolta l'armonioso flusso di coscienza in crescendo ricorda il Van Morrison piu' invasato (in At My Mercy soprattutto). Di tutt'altra natura sono Outside This Bar (una delle migliori) e Clouds, affidate a melodie evanescenti alla Morrisey e sottolineate da potenti riff distorti di chitarra; e completamente fuori dal tracciato e' l'assordante boogie elettrico di Art Of Love. Ma anche la tensione viscerale di questi "rocker" e' al servizio del disperato malessere esistenziale di Eitzel. Ogni nota, ogni accordo, ogni timbro, ogni parola e ogni pausa hanno lo scopo ben preciso di trasmettere angoscia.

California (Grifter, 1988) abbandona le atmosfere folkrock per un sound ancor piu' austero. Le litanie introverse di Eitzel appartengono sempre piu' all'universo dei cantautori depressi. E' una musica crepuscolare e impressionista, incommensurabilmente triste ma attenta osservatrice, che nel rendere situazioni personali cosi' infelici sembra esorcizzare le terribili emozioni che esse generano. Eitzel canta in un bisbiglio agonizzante, il complesso lo segue con un contrappunto sottovoce.
Appena piu' comunicativo del solito in Firefly, con una bella melodia cantanta a tutta voce e un languido Westcoast-sound di "steel" hawaiana, Eitzel risprofonda subito nelle sue tenebrose elucubrazioni: la delicata serenata di Jenny, la stornellata folkrock di Lonely, il ritratto drammatico di Pale Skinny Girl. Sono brani che impiegano spunti melodici di prim'ordine, ma quasi sempre immersi con pudore in un contesto armonico piu' adulto, nobile, elegante, come se un ritornello in se fosse un fatto volgare. Eitzel sfrutta un'arte che e' stata raffinata negli anni da Cohen e tanti altri cantautori in punta di piedi. La tenue cartilagine si sfalda un po' ad ogni accordo, fino ai deliqui onirici di Tim Buckley (Laughingstock e soprattutto Blue And Grey Shirt), e all'atmosfera irreale di Highway 5. Li' la musica diventa pura emozione, senza un vero scheletro armonico che la sostenga.
Nel genere della ballata elettrica, che il gruppo ha reinventato, lasciandosi alle spalle i modelli di Neil Young e Gram Parsons (le nevrosi del primo, le fragilita' del secondo), Eitzel cesella Somewhere. Bad Liquor (altro classico) e' persino un blues alla Beefheart, tanto esuberante quanto fuori misura. L'eclettismo del gruppo e' al suo apice, cosi' come la tormentata drammaturgia del leader. California rappresenta uno dei vertici espressivi di Eitzel e di tutta la nuova scuola di cantautori.

Mallon, che era stato protagonista degli arrangiamenti, lascio` Eitzel dopo quel disco. Dopo l'ennesimo cambio di batterista usci` United Kingdom (Grifter, 1989), in teoria una raccolta di leftovers e di brani dal vivo. Eitzel, padrone assoluto del sound, realizza un'opera di umore tetro. Nel suo terribile paesaggio psicologico quest'ego tormentato affresca le rovine di Never Mind (quasi impercettibile il crooning soul-jazz), Dream Is Gone (partitura dissonante e caotica, da sballo eroinomane), Kathleen (un duetto fra il grido roco del cantante e i guaiti della sua chitarra acustica); brani il cui grado di musicalita' e' ridotto al minimo, ma da cui trasuda il pathos piu' rovente. Eitzel emerge dalla bruma di accordi di Here They Roll Down come un Tim Buckley che canti una preghiera gospel; cavalca l'ossessivo riff "celtico" della title-track come un Nick Drake che si sia innamorato di un'ombra; ulula e geme come gli shouter neri nel magistrale blues di The Hula Maiden, uno dei suoi capolavori. I momenti piu' sereni sono quelli di Dreamers Of The Dream, una delle sue ballate country piu' cadenzate e melodiche, e di Heaven Of Your Hands, una liricissima serenata.

L'arduo esercizio spirituale, quella sorta di rituale di auto-flagellazione replicato nei primi quattro dischi, trova uno sbocco commerciale in Everclear (Alias, 1991), in parte composto nel 1989. L'inno tempestoso Rise, il "lento" per innamorati Why Won't You Stay, la novelty danzabile Crabwalk, la rabbiosa arringa di Dead Part Of You sono di gran lunga i brani piu' facili della carriera di Eitzel. Quelli che si rivelano ormai come veri e propri deliri psichedelici, The Confidential Agent e Miracle On 8th Street, e la nervosa ballata Sick Of Food, costituiscono il trait d'union con i vecchi American Music Club. L'album fa giustizia di tanti anni di incomprensione, ma non e' il loro migliore. Il chitarrista Bruce Kaplan si e` intanto aggiunto alla formazione, e proprio alla sua arte melliflua si deve il tono piu` rilassato dei nuovi American Music Club. Everclear (Alias, 1991) fu salutato dalla critica (che si era persa i precedenti) come uno degli album piu` importanti dell'anno. In realta` rappresentava un momento di transizione per Eitzel, che si esibiva sempre piu` spesso da solo, come documentato dal suo Live (Demon, 1991), e cantava anche con gli amici Toiling Midgets.

Il batterista Tim Mooney di quest'ultimi suona su Mercury (Reprise, 1993) e completa quella che e` forse la formazione piu` matura degli American Music Club. Il disco sfoggia un sound ancor piu' complesso, sia nei brani vivaci (Keep Me Around e soprattutto Johnny Mathis' Feet) sia in quelli d'atmosfera (The Hopes And Dreams of Heaven's 10,000 Whores). Alcuni brani sembrano persino parodie (soprattutto il valzer Challenger). Gli arrangiamenti lussureggianti di questo album dimostrano una sorprendente discendenza dall'art-rock dei Genesis (Apology For An Accident).

San Francisco (Warner, 1994) prosegue l'evoluzione di Mercury verso uno stile piu` articolato, alternando momenti di elegante malinconia (Fearless, Cape Canaveral) a momenti di ruggente passione (It's Your Birthday, Wish The World Away) Gli American Music Club sono diventati un sofisticato combo di soul-rock, sulla falsariga di quello di Bruce Springsteen e Eitzel un baritono smaliziato. Forse anche troppo leggero e ironico (How Many Six Packs), tanto da lambire gli Abba nel boogie orecchiabile di Hello Amsterdam, il disco non ha pudori e paure: I Broke My Promise fa il verso al soul della Tamla, Revolving Door impiega cadenze da discoteca, e cosi` via. Le liriche non offrono compromessi: la vita e` una prigione, da cui non e` possibile fuggire.

A questo punto Eitzel decide, pero`, di sciogliere il gruppo e continuare da solo. 60 Watt Silver Lining (Warner, 1996) e` peraltro una mezza delusione, perche' Eitzel decide di vestire i panni del crooner elegante di cocktail lounge.
Quello di Sacred Heart sembra un incrocio fra il Morrisey piu` petulante e il Van Morrison piu` tormentato. Quello di Cleopatra Jones e` un Morrisey accompagnato da un complesso smaliziato dal sound latino, funky, soul e jazzato. Quello di Saved e` un allievo di Burt Bacharach, accompagnato dalla tromba jazzata di Mark Isham. Il problema e` perche' queste mascherate dovrebbero interessare il pubblico. Gli Everything But The Girl fanno di meglio in questo campo. Le pause, che sono sempre state il suo forte, vengono sistematicamente soffocate dall'arrangiamento, come se Eitzel avesse paura di suonare come se stesso. Finisce persino per sembrare verboso e un po' isterico.
Lo schema funziona soltanto in un paio di casi, Southend On Sea e Mission Rock Resort, che sono anche i piu` briosi, e piu` per merito del complesso che del cantante: quando le parti strumentali sono cosi` attillate e raffinate non si puo` criticare.
Le inconfondibili atmosfere autunnali di Always Turn Away, When My Plane Finally Goes Down e Some Bartenders sono isole nell'oceano.
Anche il fatto che dedichi quasi tutte le canzoni a San Francisco finisce per dare un po' fastidio. Possibile che non ci sia altro da dire a questo mondo che cantare i romantici panorami e le tristi vicende della propria citta`?

Eitzel sceglie di collaborare con Pete Buck degli REM per West (Warner, 1997). Il disco sembra piu` di Buck che di Eitzel: Eitzel ha scritto canzoni per chitarra o pianoforte, che Buck ha arrangiato a suo piacimento. A Eitzel va dato atto di aver abbandonato i toni melensi dell'album precedente e di aver trovato un maturo equilibrio di dizione. Un paio di melodie (Stunned And Frozen, per quadriglia celtica, e sono da annoverare fra i vertici musicali della sua carriera. Ma a far da protagonista e` l'arrangiamento, con quei tocchi sottilmente orchestrali di pianoforte, chitarra, vibrafono, violini, marimba, tabla, conga, sassofono, organo e cosa non altro. In Your Life, Move Myself Ahead e Three Inches Of Wall sono le piu` orecchiabili e briose della sua carriera.
Se il processo finisce per diluire l'effetto delle sue storie, Eitzel trova pero` il modo di aggirare l'ostacolo con Then It Really Happens in cui conia uno stile non meno atmosferico che questa volta si sposa a meraviglia con l'arrangiamento. Bisognera` vedere se da solo, senza l'aiuto di Buck, riuscira` a ricostruire quel certosino intreccio di accordi per futuri sottofondi.
Se Old Photographs e Helium rimangono fedeli al suo standard di cantautore introverso e malinconico, e pertanto If You Have To Ask e Live or Die incappano nei problemi del disco precedente, nelle atmosfere melense e sofficemente jazzate del cocktail lounge.
Eitzel e` anche diventato prolifico: e` gia` pronto un altro album, Caught In A Trap (Matador), forse ritardato soltanto per consentire all'opera maggiore di sfondare.

Caught In A Trap And I Can't Back Out Because I Love You Too Much Baby (Matador, 1998) is an album of mostly acoustic sketches with bitter lyrics, despite the help of guitarist Kid Congo Powers (Cramps, Gun Club), drummer Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth) and bassist James McNew (Yo La Tengo). Six songs have nothing else to commend themselves than Eitzel's warm and mournful baritone and his plain guitar chords. Sun Smog Seahorse is tenderly unsettling and White Rosary is profound, but it is telling that the standout tracks are the other five: the suicidal If I Had A Gun, the atmospheric Go Away, the melodramatic Cold Light Of Day, the tense Queen Of No One and Are You the Trash (that well summarizes his negative philosophy with the line "evil gets what he wants").
Honestly, it sounds like an album containing five songs (five of his best songs ever) and six demos.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da Carlo Cravero)

Caught In A Trap And I Can't Back Out Because I Love You Too Much Baby (Matador, 1998) e` un album caratterizzato nella maggior parte dei casi da episodi acustici e testi amari, nonostante la presenza del chitarrista Kid Congo Powers (Cramps, Gun Club), del batterista Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth) e del bassista James McNew (Yo La Tengo). Sei canzoni non possono fare altro che affidarsi alla voce baritonale calda e dolente di Eitzel e ai suoi scarni accordi di chitarra. Sun Smog Seahorse turba con dolcezza e White Rosary scende in profondità, ma i brani che spiccano sono i restanti cinque: la suicida If I Had A Gun, Go Away, ricca di atmosfera, la melodrammatica Cold Light Of Day, le inquiete Queen Of No One e Are You the Trash (che riassume in modo efficace il pessimismo di Eitzel con il verso "il male ottiene cio` che vuole"). Onestamente l’album suona come se contenesse cinque canzoni (cinque delle sue migliori di sempre) e sei demo.

The Invisible Man (Matador, 2001) is Eitzel's "living-room" album: self-played, self-recorded and self-produced. Somehow, it turns out to be also his debut in electronic arrangements, i.e. his sleekest album. Eitzel weds the persona of an erudite and refined intellectual with the persona of a seasoned lounge crooner in songs such as the desolate The Boy With The Hammer In The Paper Bag (sparse piano notes, floating electronics, skipping dance beats), the luscious Anything (with reverbed piano ticking, orchestral drones and bursts of rhythm), and the dreamy To The Sea, a piano ballad with strummed guitar and trip-hop ambience, sung in a plain conversational whisper. it is certainly intriguing how Eitzel mixes electronic rhythms and acoustic instruments, thus attaining hybrids such as the syncopated raga-downtempo of Steve I Always Knew or the trotting shuffle of Bitterness.
He is more predictable (but perhaps also more charming) with the catchy pop refrains of Seeing Eye Dog, the psychedelic languor of Christian Science Reading Room, and the folkish lullaby Can You See (with pastoral accompaniment of instruments such as harmonium and cello). More eclectic than ever, he concocts soul music that is as light as a feather (Shine), jazzy laments a` la Tim Buckley (Without You), folk-rock rants in a Dylan-esque style (Proclaim Your Joy).
The collection is uneven, to say the least. Eitzel can always be musically intriguing, but not always lyrically interesting. He probably thinks too much of his lyrics to give everything he could in his music.

Music For Courage And Confidence (New West, 2002) is a (terrible) collection of covers.

Ugly American (Thirsty Ear, 2003), that reinterprets some of his classics (arranged by a Greek ensemble), marks a return to the sophisticated pop of West. The orchestral flourishes (that echo of traditional Balkan music), bagpipes that buzz like bees, etc. grant Eitzel's streams of consciousness a curious feeling of "no man's land".

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Lucio Pinese)

The Invisible Man (Matador, 2001) E' il disco "fai da te" di Eitzel, suonato, registrato e prodotto da solo. E' anche il suo disco meno personale, per la prima volta infatti apre ad arragiamenti elettronici. Forse perche' Eitzel unisce in se' sia l'animo di un erudito intellettuale sia l'animo del malinconico cantante sentimentale. Il risulato e' un disco con alti e bassi. Il picco di emozione lo si raggiunge con To The Sea, un miscuglio di trip-hop e ballata di pianoforte. Ma i pochi, elaborati arrangiamenti di The Boy With The Hammer In The Paper Bag e Anything forse colpiscono di piu'. Shine e Seeing Eye Dog sono delle piccole variazioni alla classica canzone folk-rock. Possiamo dire che non sara' un lavoro del tutto sincero, ma sicuramente regala dei momenti di fascino musicale.
Proclaim Your Joy E' il singolo scelto che rappresenta piuttosto male tutto il resto dell'album.

Music For Courage And Confidence (New West, 2002) Orribile collezione di covers.

Ugly American (Thirsty Ear, 2003), Reinterpretazione di alcuni suoi classici (arrangiati da un'orchestra greca), segna il ritorno al pop sofisticato di West. Gli arrangiamenti orchestrali (che ricordano la musica balcana), cornamuse ronzanti come api, etc. danno al lavoro di Eitzel quello strano sapore di terra di nessuno.

1984-1995 (2004) is an American Music Club retrospective (with, alas, rarities).

American Music Club reformed (Mark Eitzel, Dan Pearson, Tim Mooney, Mark "Vudi" Pankler, and newcomer multi-instrumentalist Marc Capelle instead of Kaplan) and released Love Songs For Patriots (Devil In The Woods, 2004), but the album is more a showcase for Eitzel's (mediocre) lyrics than for the band's music. Despite the over-production of some songs (Job to Do, Only Love Can Set You Free, lengthy closer The Devil Needs You), and the relaxed charm of opener Ladies and Gentlemen (which don't seem to fit with the rest of the collection), the sociopolitical allegory of Song of the Rats Leaving the Sinking Ship and the mood-sculpting of the Nick Cave-esque dirge Patriots Heart, of Another Morning and of Love Is rely on the lyrics to deliver a message that is perhaps beyond the means of the lyricist. The bleak introspection of classic AMC is here replaced by a vehement denunciation of the public sphere; but one thing is to whine about one's unhappy condition and one thing is to try to make sense of geopolitics and history. Eitzel is no Shakespeare, and he is certainly no Thucydides. The album fails in its basic goal: the reconstruction of American mood after a traumatic election, September 11, the Iraqi war and another traumatic election. Eitzel was pessimistic during America's best decade ever. Now it's a bit difficult for the bard who missed the decade of peace and prosperity to catch up with the decade of war and unemployment.

Mark Eitzel's Candy Ass (Cooking Vinyl, 2005) offers an odd combination of folk-tinged tracks and electronic tracks. Unfortunately, neither the idea nor the songwriting justify the album.

American Music Club's Golden Age (Merge, 2008), that paired Mark Eitzel and Vudi with new bassist Steve Didelot and drummer Sean Hoffman, avoided the political pitfalls of the first reunion album and stuck to crafting gentle, pensive, well-arranged, harmless country-rock for aging punks. The new strategy yielded two powerful existential sermons, The Windows on the World and Decibels and Little Pills, and a silly singalong, All the Lost Souls Welcome You to San Francisco.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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