Mature Mark Eitzel's The Invisible Man

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Mark Eitzel is much beloved by both British and American male music critics. This is probably because during his 12-year sojourn as singer with American Music Club, he created mature, introspective, tortured, too-many-beers-and-it's-now-5-in-the-morning-and-I-still-haven't-been-fucked music that a certain generation of older male music critics could empathize with.

Emphasis on the "mature": there's nothing "serious" hacks dislike quite so much as music that suggests they may be in some way past it or that it's all right to be flippant about life. Eitzel has always had a severe self-deprecating streak to his unholy blues music, as well as a mean, laconic sense of humor that he would frequently temper his live shows with, but it would come back to that word "mature" every time. AMC were mature the way that drinking whiskey shots while listening to later Elvis Costello albums is considered mature. You sometimes wonder whether these people were born old and tired and bowed, whether it was self-inflicted or whether it's a trick that only seasoned bluffers can pull. Maybe I'm just jealous.

Still, since AMC's demise in 1994, Eitzel has gone on to have that most worrying of things, a critically successful solo career. Meaning six albums spent collaborating with other mature adults who also enjoy painting their lives in grandiloquent sweeps of emotion, people like Peter Buck, Steve Shelley and that idiot McCready from Pearl Jam. If only he wasn't so damn gloomy and significant about everything he does. Lighten up, man, for Dylan's sake. Listen to some Britney or Christina or bloody Blink-182 or something, and relax. Everyone loves you. Isn't it apparent?

The Invisible Man is simply more of the same: 12 achingly beautiful songs and one unashamed romp in the tradition of "Subterranean Homesick Blues" ("Proclaim Your Joy"). Everything here is possessed of such seriousness and battered acoustic grandeur that it makes Joy Division sound like Ricky Martin. The appropriately narcoleptic "Sleep" is full of backwards guitars and hushed vocals: the Holden Caulfield-esque "The Boy with the Hammer in the Paper Bag" throws in a few dark dance beats. The trouble with this album is that there isn't too much to trouble anyone with. Those who have never heard of Eitzel?and that's the majority?will steer well clear, because, well, he isn't exactly Sting, is he? And those who love him will continue to do so because he's just as tortured and blackly humorous and accomplished and maudlin as ever, even if some songs do drag on like a bad Pretenders B-side ("Shine") and some soar and blossom and then die tearfully like Lambchop on Prozac ("Without You," not the Nilsson cover, although it may as well be). For myself, I still haven't forgiven Eitzel for the last time I saw him live, crap goatee indie crowd hanging breathlessly on every last bleak punchline. He brought a completely unnecessary downer to my evening. Let the wannabe romantics and prematurely mature claim Eitzel for their own. They need solace, heaven knows.

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