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Mark Eitzel | Eitzel Superhits International / Live on WFMU
To compare Eitzel's output to London's 27 bus route would be both facile and clich├ęd. Yet the comparison, however odious, is nonetheless inevitable. Fans have been bemoaning the lack of any new ME releases since 1998's 'Caught In A Trap...' and along comes not two but three new releases. These two started as tour CDs and are now available (in strictly limited quantities) through - crowning a great year for Eitzel that began with the artistic triumph of 'The Invisible Man'. 'ESI' is an album of full band demos, recorded at the start of 1999 and (foolishly) rejected by several record companies. While the sound is sometimes demo quality there is no doubt as to the worth of the songs within. The Man With The Hole In His Foot starts proceedings, elegantly using a draft dodger metaphor to convey Eitzel's own attitudes towards fame and success. It's a heart-wrenching waltz of disillusionment that slowly boils into a pulsating feedback climax that's unlike anything else in his oeuvre. 1000 Miles follows, Eitzel being told by Jesus to leave gravity behind as a slightly Bossa-Nova beat chunters underneath. Unfortunately, the song is let down (as are several others on this disc) by an exceedingly low vocal mix which fails to hit the punchy highs of live versions. "Well, America could really be beautiful / If it wasn't for the people / People who only want to be taken for a ride." So begins Highway 40, an instant classic whose strummed acoustic guitar and passionate vocals should make any AMC fan's spine a-shudder. Hold Me is a gorgeous slice of country melancholia, Eitzel letting rip, buoyed by Bruce Kaphan's insinuatingly lilting steel guitar riff. The Baroque (and snappily titled) waltz-time Liberace And His Relationship To The 20th Century is closer to the ambient electronics of 'TIM' as it fades on a bed of keyboards, Eitzel singing "Say goodbye to the 20th Century / Its incinerators, Its talented chimps." The link between the brooding acoustics of 'Caught' and the newfound eclecticism of 'TIM', 'ESI' stands on its own as a great Eitzel record only let down by a few muffled vocal takes. There's nothing muffled about the WFMU CD though. Mark sings right up close to the mic, his voice sounding rich and sweet as molasses. Recorded this April, Eitzel plays acoustic versions of eight 'TIM' songs including a deliciously jazzy late-nite Sleep, a moving Steve ("A songs about good drugs and bad sex") and an emotional take on old fave, Take Courage. Only a ponderously slow Proclaim Your Joy detracts, but the CD is worth the price of admittance alone for Mark's hilarious computer helpdesk skit, highlighting what a great stand-up comedian Eitzel would be if he wasn't a singer songwriter.

Stav Sherez
October 2001