The English newspaper's curiously exuberant quote "America's greatest living lyricist" will now accompany Mark Eitzel wherever he wanders, guitar strapped on back, wherever he lays his hat, and, thus, calls home. To offer a better reflection of Eitzel's two decades of bookish bleakness, the quote should probably be amended to "America's greatest living lyricist to have only made two great albums despite authoring 15 of them," but, well, that isn't quite as snappy in the press release. Last year, Eitzel openly courted such fanfaronade when he and his old-boys from the American Music Club celebrated their 20-year high-school anniversary with a most timely getting-the-gang-back-together; their bandname never seemed so ironic as it did when Eitzel authored an extended, extensive autopsy-on-America called Love Songs for Patriots, where he wielded his mightier-than-the-sword songwriter's pen like some scrupled scalpel. But, of course, as is par for the Eitzel course, the set, despite such sentiments, was a patchy affair. Despite all his lauded lyricism, rapier wit, and fine line in self-deprecating faggotry/drunkenness/depression, the monobrow'd miserablist has only truly harnessed his muse across two albums: AMC's magnum opus, 1993's Mercury, and his 1998 solo set, Caught in a Trap and I Can't Back Out 'Cause I Love You Too Much, Baby.
But, even though he's only done it twice, Eitzel's still done it twice. Meaning, each new disc brings the promise of a new day.
His eighth own-name outing, Candy Ass, starts out like blaze on the morning hills; Eitzel utterly on fire with "My Pet Rat St Michael," which, at first light, is instantly one of the songsmith's best ever songs. Spinning a story where he takes his depressed pet rat in to see a therapist, Eitzel hits on a profound metaphor; and, over a lone acoustic guitar, delivers droll, self-aware lyrics like "I tell him 'you should be happy'/ There's no reason to stare/ I play him Mariah Carey/ So there's butterflies and rainbows in the air." After that, well, his songwriting shine is soon obscured behind the dark clouds of densely layered home recording, Eitzel making opaque mélanges of beatloops, piano-preset, and miscellaneous keyboard noise. Some of which even come without words. Which raises the question: what's the point of being a great or, even, "greatest" lyricist if you keep your mouth shut?