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 Don’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 don’t expect an album full of these themes. Although it was recorded after Eitzel’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 ‘I Love You But You’re Dead’ was inspired by seeing punk band Destroy All Monsters live, something Eitzel turned into a bittersweet gem. But the likes of ‘The Bill is Due’ and ‘Lament For Bobo The Clown’ wallow in melancholy, while there’s an angry side to ‘Oh Mercy’, in which Eitzel pleads for an invite to a party so that he can “talk for all your party guests, my topics include fascism and rising crime and when I outline the coming doom of the USA, that’ll ensure anyone’s good time”.
The album glows with this slow burning intensity, the mood only occasionally lifted by the likes of ‘Break The Champagne’, one of the few songs here written after Eitzel’s heart attack and in fact finished only days before the album was completed.
It’s impossible to say what these songs sounded like in Eitzel’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 Don’t Be A Stranger, Eitzel has turned a nightmare couple of years into a winning lottery ticket of his own.