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Mark Eitzel | The Invisible Man (Matador)
First track, The Boy With The Hammer In The Paper Bag, leads in with a series of stabbing piano chords, followed by a tense stop and start rhythm track over which Eitzel sings, in his most gorgeous baritone, a tale of modern day urban alienation that's quite unlike anything he's previously done. It's fantastic. A grand, dark, rumbling head-spinner that kicks off the album with a flourish, a call to arms and a vision. Rumours of Eitzel having gone Drum 'n' Bass are easily put to rest by the second track, Can You See, a pop-tinged classic that pulls itself up out of the darkness of the previous song and begins to find the light. This is one of those albums that trace a definite emotional arc through their duration, each song building off the other, creating a deeper, more resonant work. The catalyst is most probably the death of Eitzel's longtime muse, Kathleen Burns, and the songs deal primarily in coming to terms with life rather than in the romantic yearnings and easy resolution of most rock music. Sleep is a moving declaration and acceptance of limits, ("If I had a song that could dissolve you like sleep / Maybe you'll have a dream you'll want to come true,") locked in a swirl of atmospherics and piano lines that underscore the melody beautifully. Christian Science Reading Room marks the second sensitive singer-songwriter's feline love letter this month, following on from Kozelek's Wop-A-Din-Din, though finding more humour and pathos in it as well as a majestically perfect first line, "I was so high, I stood for an hour outside the Christian Science Reading Room / And suddenly I could not resist, I became a Christian Scientist." Eitzel's lyrics are more focussed this time around, eschewing the Rococo wordplay of his last album for a more direct and affecting syntax, detailing the same desolations and small epiphanies that haunt the characters of Denis Johnson's and David Gates' books. There are several tracks where the production does get in the way however, the spaces in Eitzel's music being a fundamental part of their structure. The spectral Jeff Buckley tribute To The Sea is drowned out by a busy percussion track while Shine's treated vocals and low mix render the song ineffectual in comparison to its live versions. But those are small matters quickly forgotten by the time the repeated piano figure of Anything comes creeping in, introducing one of the best songs Eitzel's ever written, a moving tribute to Kathleen, his voice weary with fear and devotion as he sings the line "I'd give anything to be where you are right now." Without You follows, the most AMC sounding track here, containing a superb bridge which lets Eitzel's vocals soar amongst the stabs of trumpet notes. Seeing Eye Dog utilises a great metaphor to paint an affecting picture of doubt and devotion while single, Proclaim Your Joy, rounds off the narrative arc of the record with a delirious stomping hoe-down, sung deadpan, Lou Reed style, with a chorus that's like something from Leonard Cohen's Phil Spector collaboration. Eight years ago Mark Eitzel sang about "the kind of applause that gets louder the lower you sink." With The Invisible Man he's finally shrugged off that shackle and produced a searingly good album that serves both as a fitting requiem for Kathleen and, for his own past.
CWAS #8 - Summer 2001