The Times - March 27, 1993

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Humour With An Anguished Howl
Publication: The Times
Author: Caitlin Moran
Date: March 27, 1993

It's all in the lyrics, apparently... "Well I've been praying a lot lately/Well that's because I no longer have a TV/Just a fluorescent hangover to light my way...Well I'm an expert in all things that nature abhors. I saw your look of disgust when I touched your skin/So I try to figure out what the world needs me for/So I replay the scene again and again...

It's all in Mark Eitzel's voice, allegedly, this battered, careworn howl of near death, fissuring and flooding with emotion. Then again, it is, according to the devotees, in the music itself: haunting, haunted stabs and strokes of such bitterness and light, broken and battered but still ringing bright. This is American Music Club, where you hand in your duffel coat and your heart at the door and stagger out afterwards, crying.

"This album's OK, I guess, Mark Eitzel says. He's hunched up on a plush blue velvet sofa, looking vaguely gnome-like, vaguely scared. A hundredweight of critical adulation and cheering lies on his shoulders; American Music Club must be the most lauded band on the planet. I've never seen a bad review of them.

"I'm not happy with half the tracks on the album, he says, as if it pains him deeply. "'I've Been A Mess Since You've Been Gone' is OK, I guess.

In case anyone has any doubts, "I've Been A Mess" is the most beautiful, slow-mo reel through a lover's depression, confession and downfall. It's the shiniest jewel in a veritable Tiffany's of an album.

"All the songs I've been writing recently are more impersonal. I'm telling stories now. So people will be listening to a track, thinking, 'Hey, well that tune isn't half bad.' Sshhluck. Eitzel mimes a crocodile closing its jaws.

"They get sucked into the story and they can't get out.

But how many of these vignettes of desolation and abandonment are taken from Eitzel's own life? "Hula Maiden, from 1989's frightening United Kingdom LP, is based around a holiday in Hawaii Eitzel took the day after his father died. "I took my big free ride/I went out to the barbecue/and I got smashed on the beach/yeah well, I was thinking about you. Eitzel seems to be able to bleed incidents out of his life in order to feed the songs.

"Naah, that's not true. By the time the track gets scored into the CD or however in hell they make those things, he says, "I've pretty much erased myself from the song. There's very little of me left in those things you listen to at home.

It doesn't feel that way. Eitzel has a way of singing amazingly personal lyrics in a very dispassionate way. But, at the same time, he can recount an arm's length account of something horrifying with amazing tenderness.

And his solo gigs...

"Yeah well, I did them for the money, he grins. "My manager phones: 'Mark, do you want free plane tickets to England and an envelope of cash? And, oh yeah, you have to sing to some people.' What can I say? I'm easily bought.

Eitzel's solo gigs are hushed tear-fests for the word-perfect and the soon-to-be converted. The last one, in February, had hardened music-press photographers putting down their cameras because the viewfinders were mysteriously clogged with salt water.

"Yeah, but this is another thing, Mark says. "Journalists really buy into this whole sad thing, this whole 'Mark is damaged' routine. Nearly everybody who has interviewed me wants to help me, give me some kind of therapy. It's not all this wounded songwriter, you know? There's a lot of hope and desire in my songs. And humour. Perhaps people don't see the joke.

"It takes a really broken, messed-about person to have a sense of humour, he continues. "Because that's when you need it, when things are so bad, so low that the only option is to laugh at something. I laugh at myself a lot.

There is no easy way to finish an American Music Club interview. What is there to say? Mark says: "Buy the record. I say: "Buy all the records. Drop me a postcard if you regret it.

I expect no mail this week.