I was never a huge fan of American Music Club in their first, late-80’s to mid-90’s incarnation. They seemed to sensitive, too yearning, and frankly the production seemed a bit, well, late-80’s. For all the hype that they were the next REM, they never seemed to deliver. Plus, their frontman Mark Eitzel sounded humourless and spiky, and let’s face it, we had Mark E Smith to be spiky and at least he had a sense of humour, odd though it may have been.
So when they reformed in 2003 and released Love Songs For Patriots, I wasn’t really bothered. Until I came across a couple of songs, and I, quite frankly, was blown away. Released in the dark days of the second Iraq war, calling your album “Love Songs For Patriots” was a perverse move that I rather liked. Plus, the third song on the album, Patriot’s Heart, is about a male stripper, which is about as anti-Neo Con as you could get in those days.
Frankly, the album’s a beaut. From the opening clang of Ladies and Gentlemen, through Another Morning’s reluctant anger, right to the hope of Myopic Books, it’s filled with fantastic songs. The aforementioned Patriot’s Heart, telling its tale of a male stripper, starts off with “If you wanna see something patriotic, there’s a stripper/He don’t look that good, but he’s got an all-American smile”. And any man who’s ever wandered into a strip club (either straight or gay, and not that I have, of course *cough*) would surely recognise the line “And after a few tequilas, I become something holy.” It’s pure, wholesome entertainment.
To me, the highlight of the album is the pair of tracks Home and Myopic Books. Home was written following a drunken argument in his local bar, when he realised afterward he was a miserable, drunken wretch, picking on some young guy for no reason other than he felt like it. There’s a nod, presumably intentional, to The Smiths in the line “Why do I waste my time with people who’ll never love anyone?” (“In my life/Why do I give valuable time/To people who don’t care if I live or die ?”). Mark’s anguished yells of “Home, home, home/I hope I make it home” are heartbreaking, the drunken yelling of a man who has got lost. And I mean that in a metaphysical sense, of course.
In Myopic Books, Mark sings about getting over the pain of a breakup by visiting a bookstore “I was just hoping/for a bookstore like the one I prayed for/and the music they’d play there would be Dinosaur Jr./and the people who worked there would be super skinny/and super unfriendly – and that would make me happy”. Now personally I much prefer personal service like you get in Daunt Books or John Sandoe but hey, that’s just me, I’m not a ex-drug addict, middle-aged gay singer-songwriter. I do dig the Dinosaur Jr bit though. Anyway, I’m rambling again – it’s a delicate, simple number, and absolutely wonderful.
(Digressing somewhat, but if you ever want to play AMC songs on your guitar, invest in a decent tuner – he’s a big fan of alternative tunings. I mean DADF#AD? For pete’s sake)
As for the humour. Well, me and Mrs L&L went to see them live a couple of years ago. I warned my wife that it might be a bit of a sullen evening, but we decamped at the front of the stage at Dingwalls anyway. Out comes Mr Eitzel, dressed in a shabby suit, and I think the worst. Then he starts telling jokes. Asks me if it’s too loud for me. Then a funny story about how, whilst on heroin, he and a friend try selling some drugs back to their dealer. Then a story about how writing a song about an ex can backfire when he turns up to your show and starts camply yelling “This songs about me!” whilst you are pouring your heart out on stage. He’s one of the funniest front men I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen Teenage Fanclub and the hugely amusing Tony Crow playing with Lambchop). If you ever get a chance to see them live, do.
Anyway, there are a few less than stellar tracks on there – Song of the Rats Leaving The Sinking Ship brings forth my worries about whining that I mentioned at the start – but I truly love this album. And the production’s pretty good too.