Thursday, July 29, 2010

Album Review: Mark Eitzel – The Ugly American

This is a deeply strange album. In 2002 Mark Eitzel went and collaborated with a bunch of Greek musicians to reinterpret some of his back catalogue. The Greek instrumentation appears to be pretty traditional in the main, with bouzouki, mandolin and zourna joining the usual guitar, bass and drums.

Most of these revisitations are a good deal busier than the sparser originals, and to be honest, most of them fall short of the originals. Western Sky is one of the more successful interpretations, though the Greek instruments completely dominate the mood, changing it entirely from the original. Nightwatchman is probably one of the best ones here. While I still maintain it pales in comparison to the original, it still sounds mightily impressive, with a soaring melody.

One of two tracks don’t really work. Here They Roll Down sounds quite strange, with instruments wheezing in the background while Eitzel booms away in the foreground. The more it goes on, the more manic and odd it becomes, sounding almost nightmarish by the end. I also figure that Anything, one of the better songs on Invisible Man is totally miscast here. On Invisible Man it was a tale of longing, on a bed of brooding electronica. Here the instrumentation is way too busy, and the whole mood and feel of the song is transformed into something more joyous.

Some of Eitzel’s more sensitive songs feature here (Jenny, Will You Find Me and Last Harbour). It’s not quite butchery, but this album might have worked better without Eitzel involved, as it is these songs are too readily comparable with the originals, and suffer by comparison. It’s a fairly inessential, yet interesting diversion. Mark's Achilles' heel?!

Ideal circumstances to listen: On a boat cruising around the Greek islands on a warm August day, drinking Ouzo.