Pop: Wandering star

From the early days of his former band American Music Club right through to his present third solo album, Mark Eitzel has been an eternal songwriting misfit. His achey tunes and impassioned and complex lyrics rarely fit pop conventions and, as well as inspiring devotion from followers, sometimes songs stir up uncomfortable times for Eitzel. Take the story behind the title of the new album: Caught In A Trap And I Can't Back Out Cause I Love You Too Much Baby. On the surface, it is just a snatch from Presley's "Suspicious Minds", but there's more to it than that. "What happened was I had just stopped doing these incredibly long tours with a couple of major-label bands in America and every night I was confronted by completely indifferent audiences and I had no time to myself," he explains. "I almost had a nervous breakdown after that. So that record is to do with every specific thing. Every night I got onstage and thought, `I'm caught in a trap'."

Although the album is only surfacing now, it pre-dates Eitzel's 1997 album with REM's Peter Buck, called West, a record which followed a more direct, upbeat songwriting approach. The chemistry worked well and helped move Eitzel out of the pigeonhole marked "melancholic". He says a common misconception about him is "that I'm this completely maniacal depressed person. If a writer writes a certain kind of book, nobody says, `Just take the fucking Prozac!'" You said it was a bitter record, though - so in what way? "I'm bitter that some of my friends just can't recover from their heroin addiction, so I am left without certain friends. I try to make albums that are completely hopeful, but in a real way, in a way you can use. I say, you know what? This is how bad it can be, here it is, here's the reflection. So when people say this is `melancholic' bullshit well, I try to save people's lives, that's what I do."

Playing live, Eitzel can be an unpredictable experience: "It depends on the crowd and how much liquor I've drunk." But one thing's for sure, in 10 years' time, this awkward, agitated, but loveable tunesmith will still be fired up. "I can't stop. I have already written 20 songs for the next album, and covered another album with Peter Buck. I constantly travel, have no roots, and just live for this."

Camden Dingwalls, NW1 (0171-267 1577) 19 Feb

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