Wild Mercury Sound

American Music Club's "The Golden Age"

John Mulvey

Forgive me for recycling press releases, but there’s an interesting line in this one which accompanies the new album by American Music Club. “Dark music is for people who are healthy enough to take it,” it reads, “And AMC want to appeal to all people – including the sick.”

Which reminds me of a fairly healthy unhealthy reputation I had in the early years of being a music journalist, when I purportedly only liked miserable music, because I wrote so much about AMC and their spectacularly doleful San Francisco contemporaries, the Red House Painters. AMC’s regular trick, you may recall, was to establish a gentle musical backdrop, over which Mark Eitzel could spill his guts. Many’s the night I spent watching him have what amounted to miniature nervous breakdowns onstage: I was reminiscing a few minutes ago about a particularly harrowing solo show at the black hole of Camden, the Falcon, which left the audience in as shattered an emotional state as the man himself. I loved it.

Eitzel doesn’t seem to put himself through the wringer vocally quite so much these days, but a lot remains the same about his music. The point of that quote above is that “The Golden Age”, their very engaging new album, is allegedly a throwback to the mellow, baked soft-rock of the early ‘70s. I can see that to a degree, but really, “The Golden Age” sounds a hell of a lot like some of those early AMC albums, specifically 1988’s “California”, I think – though I must admit it’s been a while since I played those records.

But unlike their last comeback– 2004’s disappointing Lovesongs For Patriots – The Golden Age is barely an American Music Club album, going on the personnel: only Eitzel and the indescribably subtle guitarist Vudi remain from the old line-up. You’d never know, though: the melodies remain sketchy and impressionistic, taking, as Allan (another big old fan) mentioned the other day, a lot of plays to insinuate themselves. Eitzel doesn’t choke on the words quite so often any more, but age does not seem to have brought him much closer to happiness.

I haven’t played this at home yet, so I haven’t really had the opportunity to listen to the words properly. Nevertheless, things still spring out in the office that could have come from any AMC or Eitzel solo record of the last 20 years. The first line on the record, opening “All My Love”, runs “I wish that we were always high. . .” “The Decibels And The Little Pills” has a lightly-delivered chorus of “No-one here is gonna save me”. Track six is called “All The Lost Souls Welcome You To San Francisco”, which is surely so predictable a title and subject for Eitzel that he must be – with the usual tortuous self-deprecation, I’m sure – aware of the risk of self-parody.

The thing is, it all falls together beautifully: I can’t remember enjoying an Eitzel-related album so much since maybe 1993’s “Mercury”. Give it the requisite time, and memorable songs materialise out of the exquisite atmospheres here – “The Dance”, “I Know That’s Not Really You”, the aforementioned “Lost Souls. . .”, a quite brilliant one called “The Stars” which reminds me of what a powerful, original guitarist Vudi can be at his best, shaping a lovely, looming ambience which underscores Eitzel’s fragile tales far more effectively than any other musical backdrop the singer used in their years apart.

This one’s not out 'til February, so plenty more time for me to live with it and get to the bottom of what Eitzel is writing about. Maybe I’ll come back to this one nearer Christmas.


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