Out There

In love alone
60 Watt Silver Lining
Mark Eitzel
Warner Bros. Records

Mark Eitzel, who carved out a career fronting American Music Club as a post-punk lounge singer with a broken heart of gold, finds romance in a rainy day and heartbreak in the sunshine. He mopes, whines, begs, cries, emotes, sings every song like it's his last. There's light in the arrangements (trumpets bleating, pianos tinkling), but it's always smothered by the darkness in Eitzel's voice and words--the desperate plaints of a man who hates himself and despises anyone who would love him.

His shtick's beginning to grow old, bordering on Morrisseylike self-parody by occasionally substituting emoting for actual emotion. Still, Eitzel makes a convincing case for loneliness even after AMC albums like California and last year's San Francisco played themselves out like self-obsessed suicide notes penned by a man who loved himself too much to pull the trigger and ruin his suit. Eitzel is tortured, plain and simple, and his great gift is somehow managing to translate the solitary pain of one man's suffering into a real and tangible feeling communicated through nothing but simple words and a sad sound.

When he sings "nothing changes" over and over again ("Mission Rock"), it stops sounding like a complaint and more like a plain statement of fact. He embraces his demons, buys them drinks, romances them, seduces them, then sounds amazed and put-off when they reject him. He ponders his own death ("When my plane goes down, I hope it falls into the sea") and its ramifications ("In the freezing clean water it will wash away all that was left for me"), then begs you to love him so at least a part of him will remain after he's gone ("Your love is all I have to take with me").

Maybe he's a genius after all: Eitzel's one of the few songwriters who doesn't diminish love, doesn't reduce it to a greeting-card sentiment. There's nothing simple about his take on romance, nothing two-dimensional or dishonest about his depiction of the emotional wreckage left behind by a relationship gone terribly, perhaps even accidentally, wrong. He needs what he knows he shouldn't have ("Without love nothing grows/There's no safety in this world...But I still long for your touch/'cause I know I'm saved in your arms"), craves what he has destroyed ("Everything is beautiful/But, babe, not you and me"), keeps the faith but loses his trust ("I hope your heart won't always be broken"), and resorts to words he knows mean nothing in the end ("All talk is useless/It only makes us seem clever").

--Robert Wilonsky


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