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Wednesday June 6, 2001

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CD Review: Mark Eitzel

By Phil Leckman

The Invisible Man


Grade: B+

It's a sad old story, repeated to the point of clichˇ: a talented singer takes the music world by storm, winning hearts, critical acclaim and a deafening buzz. And then, for whatever reason, the bottom drops out, the singer fails to catch fire with wider audiences, and the dreams of greatness disappear.

San Francisco singer/songwriter Mark Eitzel is no stranger to the scenario laid out above - with his band American Music Club, he was a critical darling for most of the early 1990s, earning accolades from SPIN, Rolling Stone and a host of others. But success never came, the band broke up, and a string of increasingly bitter solo albums failed to change matters. Eitzel, always his own worst enemy, seemed more and more a prisoner of alcohol, depression and his brutal, self-deprecating brand of humor.

The Invisible Man, Eitzel's first solo release in three years, thus marks a welcome change of pace. The tone here is still dark, but for the first time in years, a bit of hope shines in. While tracks like "Sleep" and "Without You" are tragic elegies for times and people long past, they are nonetheless a far cry from the crushing bitterness that marred songs like "If I Had a Gun," a track from his last album. Instead, the gentle compositions here are melancholy and wistful, bolstered by touches of electronica and sly bits of humor. Eitzel hasn't changed entirely - he still wrestles with self-doubt, survivor guilt and the demons of drink and despair. But Invisible Man is nonetheless fresh and self-assured, the product of an artist finally looking forward for the first time in far too long. There's even a track here called "Proclaim Your Joy." The clichˇd version of this story almost always ends in tragedy. But if this release is any indication, The Invisible Man may just yet break the mold.