Music: The Humor of Despair

Mark Eitzel reminds one of the gruff, cynical, but bemused, youngish uncle, who if you are lucky enough, you will end up drinking imported beers with on the deck outside during Thanksgiving. He might be your father’s baby brother, whom you always wanted to emulate as you heard your parents discuss his latest adventure with his band when you were in high school and middle school. Invariably you will end up hanging out with him now that you that you are both a little older, when as mentioned above, nursing beers out on the deck, cooling off after your sister’s uptight lawyer husband threw a punch at him because he couldn’t find the humor in your uncle’s dead-on assessment of the crassness of his corporate clients or neo-con heroes.

Photo by Cynthia Wood

There is something that familiar in Mark Eitzel’s new album Don’t Be A Stranger. The music on Don’t Be A Stranger is lush but sparse at the same time, a full sound that feels expansive without being over produced, especially on songs like “All My Love”, which when in concert with Eitzel’s vocals creates an almost post-punk balladeer feel, as if Eitzel were staking a claim on being our generation’s Sinatra. Eitzel’s lyrics carry a weight to them, a weariness of seeing the world as a place where things should work out beneficially but rarely do, as in “Costume Characters Face Dangers In The Workplace” where he sings “I know it’s my job to smile and wave and bring you into the magic…I don’t believe in the future, it’s all going to shit, but I thought we could still put on a show. The doubts you share are the autumn to despair, it’s like watching ashes fall on snow.” Such blends of the frank and poetic are the meat of Eitzel’s lyrics and where Don’t Be A Stranger comes alive in ways that make it feel like an intimate album, a confiding suite of songs, and you know the stories you receive here are much richer than usual. Eitzel will not have you up and dancing around, but he will have your attention, focused on the beauty within the ugliness and the ugliness within the beauty, accepting loss and finding hope despite it because there seems to be humor lining everything and really, how bad can the world be when there is still imported beer to drink. 




Don’t Be A Stranger by Mark Eitzel is out now from Merge Records.


A digital download was provided for review.