Friday, April 1, 2011

Lost classics: American Music Club: Mercury

I'm sure we've all been there at some point in our lives, where the girl/boy has left you and you're aching for their touch at 3:27am. Between the tears, alcohol and despair, the misery of heartbreak is your constant companion. You literally feel sick all the time and every conversation is a short road to tears, anger or late night calls pleading for them to return. There is a point where your heartbreak is pathetic and you are broken. And this is the the territory that Mark Eitzel (lead singer of American Music Club) explores with a candour that is devastating.

Now, I'm generally not a believer that you have to be in terrible pain or miserable to be a great artist. I draw the line with Eitzel though who seems to excel in the art of creating perfect songs for the miserable and the heartbroken which I presume is a result of turmoil in his life. Like Tom Waits, his songs are filled with the seedy underbelly of life: the destitute, the street walkers and the damaged.

For me, Eitzel's art was perfected on the 1993 album Mercury where he proved himself to be one of the greatest lyricist alive. I don't even flinch writing that, the lyrics on Mercury are astounding: insightful and perceptive at a level which escapes most songwriters. I have so many favourite lines on this album but they cannot be appreciated in isolation of the songs themselves. However, to give you an idea here's a verse from Apology for an Accident:

Well, I'm an expert in all things that nature abhors
Your look of disgust when I touched your skin
And I tried to figure what the world needs me for
So I replay the scene again and again

I think anyone who has done something stupid with an ex-lover and chastised themselves for days/months/years later can related to this. But this is only the tip of the heartbreak iceberg being served up here. The songs explore the many forms of misery that only a true depressive could revel in. As Eitzel confides:

When I spend too much time alone, I get afraid
Afraid that you’re gonna leave me breathing

Musically, this album flirts with alt-country before the term was widely known. Apart from the odd dash of distortion, the music is all acoustic guitars, pedal steel colouring and bar sodden blues. That being said, at times the music is woozy and off centred, like a drunk trying to walk in a straight line. This is no easy listening cruise because the music perfectly emulates the the drama unfolding in the stories being told.

It took me about six months to fully appreciate this album but it took my first heartbreak to really love it. This is music for the downtrodden but it is beautiful in every way. This album will change your life.


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