It is important throughout your life to proclaim your joy. So Mark Eitzel told us on his 2001 EP. Eleven years on, as he releases his latest album Donâ€™t Be A Stranger, the 53-year-old has more reason than ever to believe in that sentiment. This album was recorded as Eitzel recovered from a serious heart attack, a jolt likely to have anyone thankful for every moment that follows.
But donâ€™t expect an album full of these themes. Although it was recorded after Eitzelâ€™s illness, the bulk of the material here was written beforehand, and most of it was intended for a new American Music Club album rather than a solo release. The story of how we got here has more than a couple of twists.
Rewind a few years, and Eitzel was dealing with yet another break-up of AMC, and then struggled to get his 2009 solo record Klamath released at all. And that was before the heart attack. No wonder the recovering Eitzel needed more than a little help, and he got it from a friend who had won the lottery and decided to put some of the money into getting him back into the studio.
The funding helped Eitzel put together a crack team led by producer Sheldon Gomberg and extending to a full string section. The result is a lush album even as Eitzel tackles some stark, depressing topics. Opener â€˜I Love You But Youâ€™re Deadâ€™ was inspired by seeing punk band Destroy All Monsters live, something Eitzel turned into a bittersweet gem. But the likes of â€˜The Bill is Dueâ€™ and â€˜Lament For Bobo The Clownâ€™ wallow in melancholy, while thereâ€™s an angry side to â€˜Oh Mercyâ€™, in which Eitzel pleads for an invite to a party so that he can â€œtalk for all your party guests, my topics include fascism and rising crime and when I outline the coming doom of the USA, thatâ€™ll ensure anyoneâ€™s good time”.
The album glows with this slow burning intensity, the mood only occasionally lifted by the likes of â€˜Break The Champagneâ€™, one of the few songs here written after Eitzelâ€™s heart attack and in fact finished only days before the album was completed.
Itâ€™s impossible to say what these songs sounded like in Eitzelâ€™s head when he first wrote them, or whether his illness has played a role in moving his once soaring vocals to a slow croon, but with Donâ€™t Be A Stranger, Eitzel has turned a nightmare couple of years into a winning lottery ticket of his own.