Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Album Review: American Music Club – United Kingdom

This 1989 album for me has always been overshadowed by its predecessor, California, and also by the fact that it has only 9 songs, of which 3 are live. I was never wild about the title of the album either so never gave this album the consideration it deserves. It’s devastating.

The opener, Here They Roll Down, is quite unusual, starting with a bed of ambient, traffic-like noise, before Mark Eitzel dislocated voice comes in, accompanied by electric guitar and an absence of percussion. Indeed there is very little percussion over the whole of this album. The track becomes darker towards the end as Eitzel sings “if your broken face can find a lover, give away your chance to fly, give away your will power”, before finally singing “hey look at me, I’m free” while sounding anything but happy about it, before a huge foreboding bass drum comes in.

Dreamers of the Dream follows, a more straightforward song structurally, in a vaguely country way, before the stripped-down acoustic Never Mind (pre-dated Nirvana!), which is a live recording, dominated by Eitzel’s voice. The title track features a recurring electric guitar motif which sounds like Duane Eddy on downers. The mood darkens in the bridge with the lines “When you held me in your arms, why didn’t you want me? When you held me in your arms, why didn’t you touch me?”

At this point 4 tracks into the album, I’m in a fairly fragile emotional state. The album becomes darker still with Dream Is Gone. Eitzel is at his wits end here, clinging on to fading hope for dear life, and the track would be best discussed by simply reprinting the entirety of the lyrics. Heaven of Your Hands, is a momentary respite, echoing Dreamers of the Dream, with a similar melody. This is a beautifully constructed song, featuring the band with a piano element added in, echoing Nick Drake's Northern Sky.

The darkness returns to envelope the listener completely with Kathleen. It’s a barely-there, sparse song, based on an offbeat guitar pattern and Eitzel singing to his muse, his ex-lover Kathleen Burns. It’s another live track, and really is pleading of the most plaintive type, and the somg climaxes with Eitzel bellowing “your love Kathleen is for someone I (then roars) SWEAR I COULD HAVE BEEN”.

Most American Music Club albums feature an absolute clunker, and this one is no different with the penultimate track, Hula Maiden. It’s a cheesy big country ballad, sung live, and all I’ll say is it’s not my cup of tea. The album then ends with a whimper, Animal Pen is another track featuring just a guitar and Eitzel’s voice, with a fairly unusual if insubstantial melody.

So there are only 9 songs here, and only 4 of them as far as I’m aware feature the full band. It’s a pretty heavy album, but one to embrace, place in your CD player and glue it shut. Unfortunately, it’s pretty hard to find, though you might be lucky enough to find the version which features the California album also.