here’s probably a great quote out there somewhere about how an artist never plans the avenues that their work will take; something along the lines of following their muse or heart to wherever it takes them. That imaginary quote may be the perfect alibi for American Music Club frontman Mark Eitzel’s chaotic career so far, but it’s little comfort for those selfish few that enjoy certain aspects of his musical works. Questions of whether he wants more than this Littlest Hobo career he’s carved out are purely academic at this point, as his seemingly uncaringly wandering from left turn to left turn in an almost bizarre—and possibly conscious—refusal to follow up any relative commercial and critical success with a similar move. For every barely noticed stroke of genius that he produces, Eitzel appears to always be moving onto the next project, loading up the shotgun to be the man ready to shoot the hole in his own foot.
While American Music Club’s reformation might’ve brought his name back into focus again, it also left an LP lacking the heart, melodies, and sheer inconceivable brilliance of their best past work and unfortunately Candy Ass moves things back yet another step. The sparkling electronic/acoustic subtlety of 2001’s The Invisible Man has been replaced here by excursions into poor trip hop, and this low-key solo effort lacks a good polish and a harsh editor. Mixing up acoustic numbers, soundscaped electronic pieces, and structured (to differing extents) amalgams of the two, Candy Ass has a hodgepodge, thrown-together feel. And while on the whole it lacks his usual forte of lyrical strength (the self-deprecating, withering lines and profound declarations of love gone right and wrong), it’s still obvious that there are some great moments shoved back in the weak production job and lopsided mix. Instrumental “Cotton Candy Tenth Power” shambles and shimmers on interesting if unsubstantial drones, but instead of being allowed to drift, it builds on busy piano, and in the case of “COBH” there’s a terribly gauche beat. Other ideas drowned in the poor mix are the looped bells in “A Loving Tribute to My City” and the peaceful-prayer feel of the otherwise thumb-fingered finish on “Homeland Pastoral.” This bits-and-pieces feel places the album squarely in the missed opportunity pile.
It’s left to the more complete and conventional Eitzel pieces like “Sleeping Beauty” to stand out —not because they fit the Eitzel template best but more because of the subtle, unobtrusive style of programming that slips around the melody. It’s a self-contained, hushed, and beautiful vision that ticks all the requisite boxes for a great song. While this works as an excellent example of when it can go right, there’s an unfinished air to songs like the thin murk of “I Am Fassbinder” that drag the album down into territory of half-finished experimentation. Luckily Candy Ass isn’t left to wander off on a sour note as “Guitar Lover” pans around subatomic detail on insect communication and gleaming, strung-out, twirling guitar notes. Creating a long Sakamoto-style melody from this bed of sounds, Eitzel shows there is a definitely more to him than the troubled troubadour with hat, wine, and guitar.
There’s little doubt that Mark Eitzel is yet to have another day in the sun. My personal theory is that some silk-and-amphetamine superstar will begin (un)covering his songs. But with half-hearted, badly coordinated albums like this on offer, its little surprise that people aren’t going to want to stumble across Eitzel anytime soon.
Reviewed by: Scott McKeating
Reviewed on: 2005-10-07