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Customer Review

13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars AMC's masterpiece of masterpieces..., 4 Oct. 2004
This review is from: Everclear (Audio CD)
American Music Club have a deservedly great critical reputation, though a few people take issue with Engine or San Francisco, their canon is suitably hallowed & cult. A critics' band, at one point they were perhaps the next big thing & this is where Everclear (1991) comes into the scheme of things. This was AMC's fifth album after an initial tenure on a Warners-affiliate- it would be the record that almost broke AMC, leading to their releases on Virgin. Perhaps they would have been the band REM became with Automatic for the People (a record that owes this dark joy a debt or several); Eitzel did win 'Rolling Stone songwriter of the year' in 1991 remember!
Not that Everclear is particularly upbeat- the darkest AMC-record advancing on the bleak-domain of 1989's Hula Maiden (which dealt with the holiday Eitzel was meant to take with his father- who died; Eitzel went to Hawai alone...); Everclear is seen as something of an elegy to friends & lovers (speculation, mind you...) surrounding Eitzel (who is the songwriter). It's easily a contender for the bleakest record of all time- though beauty balances throughout, thanks to member/producer Bruce Kaphan & Vudi's guitar overload.
AMC had already written a wealth of classics (Western Sky, Gary's Song, Firefly, Kathleen, Blue & Grey Shirt etc) & as Eitzel's solo-classic Songs of Love (which preceded Everclear) proved, it was already a potent back-catalogue. Hence the devotion...but here Eitzel's songwriting peaked & everything came together (no coincidence that several of the tracks feature in the reformed AMC's set).
Death permeates the air- from opener Why Won't You Stay ("I'm checking your pulse as you're so quiet") to the uneasy sonic-maelstrom Sick of Food (where Mercury begins to figure), to the acoustic-misery of The Dead Part of You ("...there's so little of it left"). But there's a nod to something higher- single Rise attempts to transcend all the gloom ("Tell me how to make something beautiful flash before your eyes"), though it concludes it all seems a bit futile in the light of death ("money never buys enough of ANYTHING"). Cobain, Morrissey & Stipe are complete lightweights compared- Eitzel's peers Astral-Van, Nick Cave & Leonard Cohen.
It's not all downer-rock- Royal Cafe is a pretty-little-ditty, while Miracle on 8th Street & What the Pillar...explore more acoustic climes. Even funnier is Crabwalk (the one that Eitzel cracks up during on Songs of Love), which sounds like The Mavericks 'if they read Kierkegaard' (...dig the post-modern intertextual reference yet?). I always think about Denis Johnson's writing in relation to Eitzel (the bleak American thing?), & the "sits at home sad & lonely/no one has any pity for the life of the party," reminds me of the Dennis Leary-character in the film of Johnson's Jesus'Son: it sounds euphoric as hell- like Leary's character when he makes enough to get royally-wasted- but in the end it doesn't last & you're cold in a chair in a cheap room (...the after-song The Confidential Agent, surely a title for a missing Graham Greene novel, turns that cheap room into a kind of heaven).
Oh, heaven knows they were miserable then- another person's misery becomes another's lifeblood; this really is one of the records' I can't live without (the AMC-back-catalogue is in need of reissue, especially after their truimphant return with Love Songs for Patriots). The two songs that are probably my favourite AMC-moments are Ex-Girlfriend & the closing Jesus'Hands and, I think, the strongest tracks on the LP. The former sounds like at the least, a miserable Cheever/Yates-style story, or at best, a story to rival Longtime Companion or A Home at the End of the World. Eitzel writes from an interesting perspective- a friend bumps into another friend's ex-girlfriend, "Your ex-girlfriend told me you were having a bad time...bad habits make our decisions for us..."- it's not made specific, the song could be about other forms of destruction & immolation (but you can't help thinking of the initials A,D,H,I,S, & V...). The guitars howl finally as Eitzel notes, "I guess you've got no one- I guess you've got no one- I guess you've got no one, "-the song gives up, "take care of you."
Jesus Hands'is more positive, the beauty at the end of the album- & a definite model for REM's Find the River the following year. Dobro & slide-guitar come together in what sounds like an "end of credits"-song, Eitzel singing a soul song to his brothers & sisters. Eitzel is sticking around, however miserable it seems, "I got places to go, people to see, I got a thirst that would make the ocean proud," perhaps this is Eitzel's equivalent of Neil Young's On the Beach? All this useless beauty (PM-ref-alert)doesn't help & despite the prettiness, a shift in emphasis reminds you this is a death-record,"I got nowhere to go, no one to see, and a thirst that would make the ocean proud." The holiness doesn't help- addiction, depression, diseases...Everclear is that kind of record. Probably album of the 1990s in case you wondered...
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 25 Nov 2007 20:39:35 GMT
I like your review because you stress the fact that the album isn't really all misery. After all, Eitzel wouldn't still be alive if he was all that miserable. Misery has got to be constructive and give something to listeners. Which is why we listen to AMC and love it and write reviews about how great it is and other people listen to Mariah Carey and forget about it five minutes later.
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