The problem with being critically acclaimed is that it does not always equate to a big bank account. The American Music Club is well acquainted with the phenomena. Their 5th album Everclear saw them at their height critically. Rolling Stone proclaiming the band’s frontman Mark Eitzel the best writer of 1991. I first ran across the band by hearing their second album Engine playing in a friend’s apartment in 1990. It was like nothing I had heard before; all the musical genres I liked (and some I didn’t) were neatly wrapped into sad little near-pop songs sang by a man who’s rather gruff voice conveyed so much emotion. I instantly had a new favorite band. Even with the notoriety of pre internet fame, tracks from Everclear were almost never played on the radio, except for the occasional NPR show or college station.
The American Music Club (AMC) was made up of four or five core musicians who’s diverse talents and styles blended jazz, blues, rock and country into a seamless mix. Musically the band should have had a more universal appeal, except that Eitzel’s lyrics were often about off beat people who he would encounter in his native San Francisco. Songs about loneliness, depression and illness were often tempered with a bit of humor. Eitzel’s writing was the closest you could get to hearing a modern beat poet with a backing band.
Aside from being a critical highpoint, Everclear marked a steady progression to electronic instruments in AMC’s music. The contrast from the last album United Kingdom prompted many to call Everclear over produced. Detractors aside, Everclear contains some of the bands best songs including Sick of Food and Miracle on 8th Street.
Perhaps the most uncharacterist song on Everclear might be the rock anthem-like Rise, the first single from the album and perhaps the only one to make a blip on rock radio. The band recorded a video for the song, one of their first conceptual ones. AMC would continue to muted acclaim while evolving to a more electronic, yet organic sound. Oddly as the number of keyboard banks increased, the band never lost sight of the original unlikely mix of musical styles that made them so special in the first place. Further experimentation with electronic music would be heard on later solo projects from Mark Eitzel.
Everlear might have been American Music Club’s big debut on a major record label, but for the bands fortunes, it was the same as it ever was.