Mark Eitzel – The Invisible Man

Mark Eitzel
The Invisible Man

Ah, the old singer/songwriter trick. That title, so often placed on anyone who’s not doing German techno (and in Thom Yorke’s case, even if you ARE doing German techno), begs the question: Will God ever bless a talented songwriter with a voice worthy of such talents? Historical precedent tells us no. The obvious offenders are Bob Dylan, and to an even greater degree, Neil Young. Paul Simon was so unsure of his voice, he enlisted someone named Art Garfunkel to present his songs to the world. Don’t forget Pete Townshend, Billy Corgan, and Kurt Cobain. And although Tom Waits has a remarkably cool voice, he’s hardly Frank Sinatra. It’s just such a cruel curse that the world’s greatest voices – Old Blue Eyes, Elvis – can’t write, and the world’s greatest writers (just about anyone name-checked above) don’t sing particularly well. The point of this? Well, Mark Eitzel may be an excellent songwriter, but he’s no destroyer of historical precedent.
Like many of the songwriter’s mentioned above, Eitzel, formerly the singer for the American Music Club, is a songwriter’s songwriter. That is, he’s constantly mentioned in good company as one of those underrated artists whose fans are mostly fellow musicians, one whose songs end up getting covered a lot. Those distinctions are well-earned. Though I’ve heard little of Eitzel’s acclaimed past, his new album, The Invisible Man, is a fair testament to his excellent reputation.
As hinted at earlier, the focus of this album is not Eitzel’s modest vox. That’s quite all right, however, as when I bought the album on recommendation, it was simply because I was in the mood to hear some good songs. This is not to say Eitzel’s voice is unbearable – in fact, compared to the nasal whine of Neil Young or the paper-thin rasp of Cobain, Eitzel’s voice is quite likable. Most of the time, he stays comfortably in the low tenor range, and this works remarkably well with his sparse arrangements. These minimal arrangements are best observed on songs like “Sleep” and “Anything.” On the former, a quiet guitar cautiously follows Eitzel around until the chorus, where all sound all but drops out, save for Eitzel crooning “if I had a song that could dissolve in sleep maybe you’d hear it all through your dream.” The latter sounds tense, with a buried acoustic guitar, a pulsing piano, and nervous distortions bubbling up around Eitzel’s haunted voice.
The first third of the album sounds so restrained that when the strummed acoustic chord progression kicks in on “To the Sea,” it sounds like a careening wide-screen ballad, which on any other album, it surely is not. Some of the songs, such as “The Boy With the Hammer” and “Bitterness,” feature a riding percussion that gives them a lounge-like feel. For the most part though, these songs come out of a heavy folk tradition (as opposed to the other option – the blues), and that often pits Eitzel into a storyteller mode. Though Eitzel’s lyrics are often downers (though remarkably good downers), there are some surprising moments of optimism. “Can You See” finds Eitzel mumbling “if the truth won’t make you happy what will you do / the truth is I’m happy when I’m with you” and “Proclaim Your Joy,” the happy-go-lucky, Dylan-inspired closer finds Eitzel rolling rhymes off the top off his head until an intentionally cheesy chorus sings “it is important throughout your life to proclaim your joy.” Awwwww.
If nothing else, The Invisible Man handily shows that Eitzel is a singer/songwriter in the discussed tradition, a distinction he’s no stranger to. The important thing is, this is a truly enjoyable album with a wide swing of emotions and ideas, full of a charm and modesty that seems to befit the music. And by the end of the album, you could hardly imagine anything but Eitzel’s weary, honest voice delivering these songs to you, however pedestrian it may be.