American Music Club – Love Songs for Patriots

American Music Club
Love Songs for Patriots

When quizzed in recent interviews for the reasons why American Music Club has reunited, singer/songwriter chieftain Mark Eitzel has been typically reluctant to give a concrete explanation, preferring to play the “why not” card instead. With such coyness of course comes great speculation, but then that’s “our” job. Inevitably there may have been some financial incentives to reform for live appearances at the very least, though we’re not talking Pixies-like bucks here. There’s also been a posthumous cult following building up around the band, egged on by writers at British publications, that has seen the reformation of AMC as some kind of second-coming. With such twining impetuses behind Eitzel, the admirable struggle to keep his solo career on course must have hardly seemed worth it, for a while anyway. On the latter front, Eitzel has shown classic signs of an attention deficit disorder. Swerving from maudlin jazz balladry (1996’s 60 Watt Silver Lining), pure self-indulgent grumbling (1998’s Caught in a Trap…), Pro-Tooled electro-pop (2001’s The Invisible Man), perverse interpretations of others’ material (2002’s covers-only Music for Courage and Confidence), and even more peculiar self-revisiting (2003’s The Ugly American tackled old and new Eitzel/AMC songs with traditional Greek musicians). Which is why the most plausibly reason for Eitzel reawakening AMC is pure fatigue – the tiredness of competing with his old band’s lauded legacy, boredom at finding new ways to compensate for a lack of musical comradeship, and exasperation at being weighed down by his own contrariness. With all these factors in mind – alongside a reiteration that the band’s 1995 separation was largely amicable – surely then Love Songs for Patriots (the first new AMC album in almost a decade) should be a winner for Eitzel’s musical/mental well being, if not for his fans?

Well, yes and no. For the first half of this statement, the reunified foursome (and one new recruit) sound frustratingly out-of-sync with each other. It’s almost as if there was some over-sensitive preoccupation with making sure everybody had a noticeable part to play. Meaning that the likes of “Ladies and Gentlemen” and “Job to Do” sound turgidly overwrought and over-amplified, in the process reminding us that AMC has never been convincing at making epic rock moves. There’s also a feeling that Eitzel isn’t quite sure how to fit his lighter, less self-hating approach to songwriting of recent years into AMC’s infamously bleak canon. Consequently, he turns lazily back to AMC themes of yore (bad luck, bad love, and bad booze on “Another Morning”) as well as to some rather clumsy anti-Bush politicking (“Patriot’s Heart”). Ultimately, much of it must stem from the baggage Eitzel has both lost and accumulated during the last 10 years, whilst the other band members have been let loose on day-jobs and lesser known artistic outlets (with guitarist Mark “Vudi” Pankler being a bus driver, drummer Tim Mooney becoming a producer, and bassist Dan Pearson working on various musical projects).

However, AMC has never been a band to let the love in easily. Perseverance can deliver dividends, if you have the stomach for it. So if you can make it to track six – the lush “Only Love Can Set You Free” – Love Songs For Patriots becomes far more palatable from then on in. “Mantovani the Mind Reader” offers up laconic barfly wisdom as does the deeply lovely acoustic “Myopic Books.” The jovial country hoe-down of “The Horseshoe Wreath in Bloom” conceals a clever caustic lyric, reminding us of Eitzel’s all too often buried sense of humour. But it’s the devastatingly lovely closing tracks – “Song of the Rats Leaving the Sinking Ship” and “The Devil Needs You” – that offer the best flashbacks to the bleakly beautiful side of AMC best captured on 1988’s seminal California. In fact, if it wasn’t for the misfiring satire of “America Loves the Minstrel Show,” there would be a very good case for only buying this album on vinyl (available via Devil in the Woods Records, with one extra track) so the delights of the second ‘side’ wouldn’t be diminished by having to wade through the debris of the first.

Overall Love Songs for Patriots is primarily a record made for and on behalf of the fans that kept the flame alive over the last 10 years. For the uninitiated, it’s a tough listening proposition that’s better postponed for a copy of the recent (and rather good) best of/rarities compilation, American Music Club 1984-1995, or (if you can find it anywhere) the masterful California. Not a classic comeback then, but not a total never should-have-happened-event either.