Friday, July 9, 2010

Album Review: Mark Eitzel – Music for Courage and Confidence

The dreaded cover album. Cover albums are often a recipe for dodgy music. Theoretically a cover album sees established artists paying tribute to their influences. In reality, it sees them performing pale imitations of much-loved songs in the main. The ones which tend to work the best are where the songs are not particularly well-known, therefore they don’t have a legacy to tarnish and often by covering them it brings them to a wider audience. The likes of Mark Kozelek takes a different approach, ditching the original melody (as he does with his ACDC covers) and recasting the songs as his own.

As a sort of like-minded artist, it was fair enough to expect a decent cover album from Mark Eitzel in 2002. Unfortunately this isn’t it. For long-time fans of Mark Eitzel, this might have been an opportunity to hear him tackle some dark obscurities. Typically he takes a different tack, by covering songs by mostly mainstream artists, from Bill Withers to Kris Kristofferson.

Although for many of these tracks he takes the Mark Kozelek approach, ie composing a melody and shoehorning the song into it, it has to be said that in the main this doesn’t work for him. Many of the tracks (Do You Really Want To Hurt Me, I Only Have Eyes For You, More,More,More) feature electronica which would probably work quite well on its own, but tends to clash with these tracks, leaving them sounding quite odd really.

On other tracks he plays it straight. Ain’t No Sunshine is a largely faithful rendition of the Bill Withers track, but it doesn’t depart much from the original, leaving it merely sounding like a depressed version of the song. Help Me Make It Through The Night fares worse, with a mechanised beat plodding its way through the song. To be fair Eitzel doesn’t do a bad job of singing the song, though he ruins it with a spoken dedication at the end of the track which sounds a bit cringey really. And his choice of Move On Up is just totally bizarre, he’s the last person you would expect to do a karaoke version of this horn-driven soul song.

The most successful songs are the vaguely countryish ballads (Snowbird, Gentle On My Mind, Rehearsals for Retirement) which suit his voice a lot better. In truth, these don’t hold a candle to anything else in his catalogue. I’ll Be Seeing You, is a kind of farewell, Eitzel dropping his register to sound like modern day Leonard Cohen, and works pretty well.

Much as it pains me to say so, this is an experiment which is best forgotten.