When joining the Enfnts Terribles music department I installed some censorship. By promising myself to stick to upcoming artists. To focus on bands that are as hot and new as possible. I swore not to drag in old heroes. What interest would be in there for the magazine’s audience, if I would ramble on about artists who had their heydays even before the average ET reader was born?
And then Mark Eitzel released his newest album ‘Hey Mr. Ferryman’. Moment at which I concluded: fuck this. I’m an Enfnt Terrible and I’ll do – write – whatever I want. There, that felt really great.
American Music Club
Mark Eitzel is one of my top three heroes, if not top two. The man is the ultimate genuine artist, gifted in word and voice, darkly funny and dealing with despair in the most gorgeous way possible. His baritone voice, sometimes crooning, sometimes whispering, never fails to head straight under my skin. His lyrics compete and even surpass Lou Reed’s best ones. Now that I think about it, Reed should be part of my top three as well. Wow, it’s getting pretty crowded up there.
I got to know the man whilst still studying. Not really thát long ago, I’m sure you will agree. At that moment he was fronting American Music Club. A wonderful band, critically acclaimed but in the most unfair way possible not appealing to the masses. Living as a student in a home full of language students and music lovers, American Music Club was thé number one band I got indoctrinated with. Something I’m grateful for up till this moment.
They released a string of remarkable albums. Mercury, Everclear, San Francisco, … these are albums I still listen to quite regularly. Mostly on my more introspective moments. On Sunday nights that is, when asking myself where the hell that weekend went. And why I ate those damn fries.
Eitzel released ten solo albums up till now, consistently at a high albeit melancholic and not always easy level. Loved by a stubborn number of believers, Eitzel – The Guardian called him America’s greatest living lyricist – still couldn’t get even close to the recognition he deserves. The music industry is hard. And ruthless.
As an example of the latter: a couple of years ago I saw Eitzel perform live. In Wilrijk (or Berchem, whatever). In a living room for 30 people. Only him and his acoustic guitar. In some way disrespectful for the amazing artist he is but at the same time the most beautiful evening I was ever part of. I confess having tears in my eyes for the whole of the concert. I confess as well I required a couple of hugs from Bernard, the friend who had joined. As usual, this name has been altered, thus preventing shame for all involved parties besides me.
Hey Mr Ferryman
The new album, Hey Mr Ferryman, is Eitzel’s first one since 2012’s ‘Don’t Be A Stranger’. Originally intended to be acoustic, it became quite fuller sounding. Largely responsible for this is Bernard Butler, known a.o. from Suede fame, with whom Eitzel collaborated. The result is a very crisp sounding album. An album made by a 58 year old artist who went through a rough period, including health and financial problems, but who’s in great artistic form. An album that easily ranks amongst his best too.
The marriage between Eitzel’s voice/lyrics and the more luscious production and contributions (guitar, bass, keyboard) by Butler turns out to be an excellent one. And fully allows this grand story teller to take us on yet another remarkable journey of sharp observation, despair and even optimism.
I won’t try to highlight the finest moments of the album. I believe all of the tracks will become favorites the coming weeks. Although I did straight away fell in love with ‘An Answer’ whilst ‘The Road’, with the line ‘we’ll lose the war just to win the fight’, immediately presented itself as an instant classic.
But I could mention as well the beautiful ‘Nothing and Everything’ or ‘Mr. Humphries’, the latter revolving around the famous character of BBC’s classic sitcom ‘Are You Being Served’, with Mr. Humphries now being in the nursing home. I can only be in awe about how Eitzel comes up with his stories.
And if ever awards get handed out for best song title, then ‘In My Role as Professional Singer and Ham’ hás to win.
This is a (genuine) promotion
I got inspired recently and the inspiration came from quite an unexpected side. When I saw Kellyanne ‘alternative facts’ Conway’s spot on promotion of the Ivanka Trump brand, I decided that I could do better. And for a much better brand, the Mark Eitzel one.
So here I am, with my promotion. Which is actually a plea from the heart, primarily directed to those who are not familiar yet with the elaborate Eitzel and American Music Club oeuvre. Please dive into it. Discover it. And indulge into it. In days and times where heroes such as Bowie, Cohen, Prince, Michael and others have passed away way too soon, I strongly urge to recognise a legend whilst he’s amongst us and at his creative peak.
If you’re a fan of more known melancholic bands such as The National and The Red House Painters and you like your music with the sunny side down – I stole this quote – have a listen to Eitzel and attend one of the man’s upcoming concerts (as well in Belgium and Holland). If you’re not a fan, do it as well.
You don’t have to believe me btw, but Pitchfork stated about Eitzel: ‘If Leonard Cohen’s voice is a story about the passage of time and Levon Helm’s is a story about losing what is most precious to you, Eitzel’s is about the circuitous roads we take in search of ourselves.’
I could not have worded it more aptly.
Photo Credits: Mark Holthusen – Frank Yang
Artist: Mark Eitzel
Album: ‘Hey Mr Ferryman’
Released: January 27 2017 (Merge Records)
Must listen: the whole album