Since dissolving American Music Club in 1995, singer-songwriter and guiding personality Mark Eitzel has released solo albums of varying quality, but even the best lacked the eclecticism and morose confidence of his old group. Ex-Beatles and ex-punkers alike know what Eitzel now knows: The act of tailoring songs for a select group of collaborators can make those songs more urgent and sharp. That difference becomes abundantly clear on Love Songs For Patriots, a new disc by the newly reunited American Music Club. Danny Pearson's slow, full bass, Vudi's pinging guitar patterns, Tim Mooney's jazz-influenced percussion, and the general atmospherics of multi-instrumentalist Marc Capelle (a new member who worked on Eitzel's last solo record) work to create a loose but natural racket behind the singer's cigarette-fueled croon. Over the course of 13 songs, the band veers from beauty to dissonance and from the personal to the political, while always sounding fluidly musical.
Love Songs For Patriots has been pitched as another in the recent string of anti-Bush rock records, but good luck finding any specific policy critique amid the poetic theatricality of "Patriot's Heart" or "Song Of The Rats Leaving The Sinking Ship." Typical of American Music Club, Eitzel swerves recklessly across the tracks, whispering and moaning about perceived slights. The more grandstanding anthems balance out logy ballads like "Love Is" and "Job To Do," which linger in the mind like a missed appointment; those songs are balanced further by the sweetly sad romantic narratives "Another Morning" and "Only Love Can Set You Free," which scatter kernels of hope.
During its first run, American Music Club never made a bad album and made a few great ones. Love Songs For Patriots belongs on the latter list because it dispenses what an American Music Club record is supposed to: The songs are heartfelt and witty, with the kind of deep sweep that makes listeners happy to be sad. The record begins with the words "Ladies and gentlemen..." and builds to the piercing one-two of "America Loves The Minstrel Show" and "The Horseshoe Wreath In Bloom," on which Eitzel wonders whether his parade of woe is an unnecessary distraction from more important issues, then answers himself by trotting out another irresistible musical melodrama.