The reunion of American Music Club, a band whose cult following never quite grew big enough to match its critical accolades, brings to mind some questions: Will the reunion be happy? Can a band spend ten years apart and recapture its old chemistry? Is there a market for such raw, emotional but artful tunes? Here’s the good news: As of today, no tour dates have been canceled due to infighting or clashing of egos.
And if you miss the answer to questions of chemistry in the surprising and somewhat discordant pageantry of, “Ladies and Gentleman,” the opening track on Love Songs for Patriots, the answer comes as a resounding “yes” in the second song, “Another Morning.” This may be one of the most affecting American Music Club songs written to date. Mark Eitzel, with a melancholic optimism that only he can pull off, croons, “I wanna see you smile with a real simple melody/ It’s when you wake up and you’re glad that you’re breathing/ It’s when you wake up and you’re glad that you’re living.”
The group disbanded after releasing 1994’s San Francisco, and lead singer Eitzel went on to produce a string of solo albums, bassist Dan Pearson and guitarist Vudi both tried their hands with other acts, and drummer Tim Mooney focused on his production studio. But even devoted fans of their solo careers will admit there’s just no substitute for what this band creates together, and it’s astounding how cohesive the musicians are after ten years apart. Each member’s musical understanding of one another pervades this album and works to actualize Eitzel’s poignant-as-ever and gut-wrenching lyrics.
Those familiar with American Music Club’s catalogue will notice the absence of Bruce Kaphan (the only non-returning member of the original lineup) and the watery atmosphere he created with his pedal-steel guitar, which was something of signature sound on albums like Mercury and San Francisco. With Kaphan’s absence on this album, Love Songs strongly resembles the punk and jazz influenced music of the band’s early albums such as Engine and California, though the addition of Marc Capelle on piano and trumpet allows the band to develop a slightly new sound.
Capelle’s piano is supremely sparse on “Montavani the Mind Reader.” Each chord resonates against the hollowness of the piano, echoing Eitzel’s doubtful assertion, “I’m sure it’s true, I’m sure it’s true/ You can be anyone you want to.” The band shows its characteristic versatility with Capelle on the bluesy twang of “The Horseshoe Wreath in Bloom,” capitalizing on the irony of rollicking piano juxtaposed against Eitzel’s lyrical cynicism.
Eitzel, once somewhat perplexed by the critical acclaim of the band in the face of less-than-astounding sales, does not appear too concerned with winning popularity contests. “Patriot’s Heart” is a character sketch of a semi-attractive aging man working as a stripper in a gay bar and trading in empty promises. The song has underpinnings of political commentary, as does the first track, “Ladies and Gentlemen,” which Eitzel has introduced at some live performances as “What George Bush should have said after 9/11.” Both songs are unequivocally successful in content as well as melody, revealing a political angle that the bad had previously only dabbled with.
A few songs drag with musical blandness, but Love Songs for Patriots proves there is still a place in rock for intelligence and emotion. As to whether the listening public and record stores, which have long ago removed the American Music Club markers from the racks, are ready to finally pay attention, that question will be answered soon enough.