Not many artist can juggle styles of music as diverse as jazz, rock, folk and ambient all in to one album and do it seamlessly, but that was just what Mark Eitzel did on 2001’s The Invisible Man. There was nothing in 1998’s stark Caught in a Trap and I Can’t Back Out ‘Cause I Love You Too Much, Baby that would have prepared fans for Eitzel’s foray into electronic music three years later. None of Eitzel’s solo work has been content to stand still, as each album featured a different take on the old American Music Club formula, but none going electronic until now.
No we’re not talking about Orb or Boards of Canada style electronics, Eitzel played down the electronic elements on The Invisible Man to the point of being accents behind his traditional drums, bass , guitar and piano arrangements.
For the careful listener, the signs were audible back when Eitzel was the leader of the critically loved American Music Club. The band had flirted with subtle electronic sounds towards the end of their first iteration that capped with San Francisco in 1994. On Eitzel’s 6th solo album he would explore the digital medium fully – or to the extent that Eitzel’s musical sensibilities would allow.
Said to have been recorded in his living room on a Macintosh computer, The Invisible Man sounds surprisingly organic considering the electronic elements involved in the recording. In fact, its done in such a way that traditional instruments like the piano and Eitzel’s gruff voice are front and center.
In typical Eitzel fashion, the songs dive into the underbelly of San Francisco’s urban scene with songs about golden boys (‘Steve I Always Knew’), heartfelt co-dependance in ‘Without You’ and a hilarious drunken religious conversion in ‘Christian Science Reading Room’. Broken relationships and dysfunctionality abound, but the mood is not always gloomy.
Despite the occasional humor and off beat subject matter, there’s a trace of heartfelt sincerity or desperation in Eitzel’s voice – its one of the traits that make his songs some of the best written ones in rock. Even if general audiences have never heard of him, his music remains an influenced many rock artists if not in spirit. Rolling Stone magazine even called him one of the best songwriters in rock in the mid 80s.
Stylistically Eitzel has remained outside of pop trends, even with this one of his most accessible solo albums. The closest The Invisible Man comes to a pop song might be the upbeat ‘Proclaim Your Joy’, but nothing on the album made any traction beyond the occasional airing on modern rock radio. For the small but devout following Eitzel had been cultivating since 1979 with AMC, The Invisible Man was proof that his music was evolving beyond what had given him initial critical fame.
Of Eitzel’s eight or so solo albums (some are self released and difficult to find) The Invisible Man is my favorite. It combines all the things I love about Mark Eitzel’s music; sharp songwriting, modern manly cowboy voice and an unusual mix of musical styles.