Independent.ie - January 26, 2008

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American Music Club: There's a club if you'd like to go...
Publication: Independent.ie
Author: Nick Kelly
Date: January 26, 2008

It's probably safe to assume that when Mark Eitzel named the new American Music Club album, The Golden Age, he meant it in a bitterly ironic way.

It's not as if the 13 songs on the new record -- the band's ninth -- reveal a sunnier, happier Eitzel at peace with himself and the world. If they did, it would make the rolling ticker tape at the bottom of the CBS evening news. After all, Eitzel has described AMC's main influences as country music, Nick Drake and Joy Division...

As he approaches his 50th birthday, the cult Californian crooner remains every bit the morose malcontent. And we wouldn't have him any other way.

The songs on The Golden Age are quintessential AMC: peopled by lonely lushes out trawling downtown dives in the hope of finding a redemption of sorts. This usually leads them into the arms of unsuitable partners -- which they soon enough regret, usually with the dawn.

But amidst all the wreckage, Eitzel often conjures shining jewels of real poetry. "The Decibels And The Little Pills" on the new album is a gem. The narrator is the pill-poppers' party-pooper with the task of breaking the bad news that the hedonistic highs of the bright lights/big city (or in Eitzel's words, "all the thrills of the moon") are tragically transient. "You needed love to fill the dark. And time is a current that only flows from warm hands to warm hearts."

The song works as a companion piece to the Chemical Brothers and Midlake's collaboration The Pills Won't Help You Now from last year -- both provide a painful dissection of clubland, where happiness is but a medicated mirage. The frazzled mood is mirrored in the coda thanks to some wonderfully antsy guitar from AMC perennial Vudi.

Elsewhere, it's Eitzel himself who ends up imbibing at a party in "Windows On The World" -- and the party happens to be inside the Twin Towers in New York. But it goes without saying that Toby Keith this ain't.

But as serious as many of these songs are, Eitzel retains his pitch-black sense of humour. Look no further than his note on the American Music Club website explaining the timing of The Golden Age's release: "The new album will be released ... when the ice and snow is thick and heavy. When your winter depression finally kicks in. No Christmas or New Years to look forward to -- just the iron grip of the cold and the bleak endless news reports on the death we bring to the Middle East and to ourselves. Perfect. The record company did much market research and focus group after focus group said this would be the perfect time to release our new record. Of course it will be. After that we tour and bring our own version of American Freedom to a waiting and willing world."

Sounds like the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Eitzel & Co. kick off their European tour with four dates in Ireland next week. The last time AMC visited our shores was a truly memorable, er, "greatest hits" show in The Village in Dublin in 2004, when the band reformed after a 10-year hiatus to support their comeback album, Love Songs For Patriots.

Seeing the full band line-up is really the best way to appreciate Eitzel's music in a live setting: when he does the solo acoustic thing, he tends to be excruciatingly self-conscious, and often ends up getting into an argument with some moronic heckler, before forgetting the words to his best songs, which he then abandons half-way through in a fit of pique and/or self-disgust. Not pretty.

But with the band behind him, the hecklers are inaudible, and all is well with the world. Yet the classic AMC line-up -- which played on the seminal Everclear in 1991 -- has once again changed. Eitzel fired drummer Tim Mooney and bassist Dan Pearson and hired some LA musicians, Sean Hoffman and Steve Didelot from The Larks, in their place.

This is the line-up which features on the new record, recorded in the City of Angels, and it works a treat: the sound is laidback and loose-limbed, and the production unfussy and warm.

But how long this line-up lasts is open to question -- here's Eitzel telling The Event Guide why AMC spit up in the first place: "The band had no more money left. The managers took it all... The pedal steel player left because he hated us all acrimoniously. I then spent all my money firing my managers -- it took $60,000 to fire the fuckers."

And the 2004 reunion? "It all went bad. I fired the drummer and bass player. Are you a band any more if you don't even talk?"

With an excellent new album to plug and an indestructible back catalogue to mine, now is the time to catch Eitzel and his traveling minstrels -- before he fires everyone again.