Caught in a Trap and I Can’t Back Out ‘Cause I Love You

Too Much, Baby

Matador

Despite Matador’s promo sheet’s trumpeting it as a return to form, Caught in a Trap is not the record Mark Eitzel’s more demanding fans have waited for. But it is a whole lot better than last year’s dreadful West collaboration with Peter Buck. For Caught in a Trap, gone are the shiny, happy choruses of the R.E.M. guitarist and back are, well, almost no choruses at all; Eitzel has long shunned traditional singer-songwriter signposts, making up his own directions to the perfect composition. The first four tracks feature the former American Music Club frontman alone, picking away at the strings of his guitar like a jazzer supporting a poet. Eitzel plays around his words, allowing them to dictate his songs’ emotional rhythms and quiet dramas. The album’s middle section features an all-star band made up of Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth), Kid Congo Powers (Congo Norvell), and James McNew (Yo La Tengo), but their talent can’t overcome a lack of practice with Eitzel; Caught in a Trap is a loose, almost lo-fi record. But the relaxed musical setting serves Eitzel well, allowing him to just play and not worry about market concerns or big recording budgets. (This CD is a one-off for Matador before his next record for Warner Bros.) “Cold Light of Day” and “Go Away” are the only cuts where Eitzel gives in to a strict rock structure, but unlike the majority of those on the ultratraditional West, which sank like the sun under the spell of Buck’s sleepy strumming, these tunes are freewheeling in the manner of old AMC rockers like “Rise” and “Outside This Bar.” The CD is bookended with two more melancholy acoustic numbers, but unlike much of Eitzel’s recent work, you won’t want to leave Caught in a Trap up on the shelf.

—Christopher Porter