Walking into Love Songs for Patriots
is an experience akin to passing through a time warp and finding yourself in a jazz ghost-lounge on LSD. "Ladies and Gentlemen, it's time," Mark Eitzel croons on the album's opener, "for all the good that's in you to shine / for all the lights to lose their shape." Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold up. American Music Club? Didn't they die in 1995, after that Reprise record deal bombed? So we thought -- but now, after several albums of almost obscenely good (and criminally overlooked) solo material, Mark Eitzel and his mates are back.
Blissfully, the resurrected AMC is still full of its old winning elements -- the slow-burning desperation, the heartbreaking irony, the lovely melody and yes, the unibrow. Bridging a ten-year gap with uncanny ease, Love Songs for Patriots makes early nods to the band's jazz tendencies, then wends its broken way through a melange of one-man Eitzel shows, heart-busting, rough-edged tunes and scathing, ironically up-beat ditties. The tunes that spotlight Eitzel, for their part, are often shatteringly beautiful and hopeless. His inimitable knack for penning bittersweet melodies is on full display, as is his stinging lyricism, which still transitions from sweet hurt to quiet venom with almost subversive ease. "Another Morning" puts Eitzel and Marc Capelle's acoustic-and-piano melody into sharp relief against a single-note electric strum, while Eitzel's wounded verses cut like razors through the song's hypnotic sway. "Love Is" is positively gut-wrenching; Eitzel croons, "Love is only a lie / the shadow of a star flying by / we're so small compared to our hearts / we're so small, compared to our lullabies / I didn't mean to make you cry." When he intones "lullabies", he lets the first syllable stretch, teasing towards "love", then denies the cliché and sends a dagger of reality into the song's romantic soul. And it all plays out over a serene, suspiring melody that glazes the blade as it twists its way in.
Nor do the album's harsher, more fully fleshed-out efforts fail to stun; "Job to Do" and "Only Love Can Set You Free" are a one-two wallop of magnificent weight. The former, shimmering across a sheer synth layer, swoons into a heady wash of cymbals, electronic flutters and choked electric distortion, as Eitzel sings, "Some want to show you where the light is / Some just want to stare at the view / Everyone has a job to do." The song's repeated, magnificent collapses can barely hold onto the melody that lurks in the background; it's a shining example of the group's comfort with chaos alongside smooth songcraft. The latter -- the most sharply ironic of these tracks -- rises and settles on a comfortable bass line, its sublime chorus washing out with the salty lines, "Only love can set you free / I've been so lucky." "Home" perhaps Love Songs' highest high, plays with the distortion and electronic manipulations that Eitzel has flirted with in the past. Its hooks carry it through his crushing lyrics: "No one sees me / they don't need to / to know I've slipped away with the tide." When Eitzel lets loose with a plaintive cry of "Home / Home / Hoooooooome / I hope I make it home," your endorphins are already halfway down your spine.
There is no shortage of understated brilliance on Love Songs for Patriots. Jazzy openers "Ladies and Gentlemen" and "Patriot's Heart" may come across as a bit anachronistic, but they're worthy reminders of where AMC came from. More importantly, the album's successful transition into harder territory shows that American Music Club is no nostalgia act -- they're still capable of going new places. As long as Eitzel is at the helm, we should all be happy that they're going again, period.