Written by: Alex Green
There are very few guitar players who can summon such elegance from their instrument as Max Eider. Known best for his guitar work with The Jazz Butcher Conspiracy and David J., Eider has quietly released three excellent, crushingly romantic solo albums since 1987, and his fourth might be his best yet.
Disaffection is a winning eleven-song collection that finds the singer/songwriter as smooth as ever, but this time around he’s also biting and caustic “Nice Guy” is a jangling shuffle that opens the proceedings with Eider dismissing his former polite self by giving him “the sack” and replacing him with a darker, more rueful persona. “East End Boy” sways away in the aftermath of a busted romance but Eider’s only apology comes in the form of “I’m sorry you’re mad.” “Evolution” is a cynical and ghostly breakdown about humanity; “Tooth And Claw” is a moving meditation about mankind’s treatment of the rest of the animal kingdom and “Analgesia” a devastating ballad about self-medication finds Eider, accompanied by longtime collaborator June-Miles Kingston, singing, “It hurts when you move/It hurts when you stand still.”
Elsewhere, “Dancing With Andromeda” is a spacey number about black holes and the heartbreaking “Those Who Work Together” is rumination about genocide, that finds Eider gently, but pointedly asking, “Who are all these people?” Eider’s recent move from London to the Northumberland coast has given the singer/songwriter longer and darker vistas to ponder the sadness of the world, the fate of humankind, the heft of the future and the weight of the past. This subject matter may be a far cry from Eider’s “Drink,” a beloved ode to getting drunk from his old days in the JBC, but that was a long time ago and Eider’s no Bukowski. He’s an erudite lyricist who plays his guitar gracefully and sings with a voice that’s rich and utterly lovely. But Eider has progressed over the years into a man who’s not afraid to let in the bitterness. It’s an ingredient that doesn’t disturb the finesse of his records, rather it brings in an unsettling, but altogether appealing layer to his work that augments his compositions and elevates them to such a sophisticated level, he’s practically peerless.
“Spittal Beach” ends it all here and the last shot we get of Eider is of him “Standing and watching the breakers through the spray.” Still in thought, still gazing at the churning of the years and the onset of oblivion, Max Eider, my friends is still hard at work.
Max Eider talks to Stereo Embers about Disaffection:
Stereo Embers: The last time we spoke we talked about the time between your records–is this your fastest turnover yet?
Max Eider: Yes, it’s easily the quickest–three years almost to the day. The main reason is that I felt I had to get this stuff off my chest. The ideas came in a rush, but the way I do it these days, creating the tracks is a long, painstaking process, at least until I get to the guitar parts. Max vs Mac.
SEM: Thematically, can you talk about what’s going on in these songs?
ME: Well, a whole lot of whining, obviously. What else can I say? The best place to start, conveniently, is with the first track, ‘Nice Guy’. Three summers ago my (Japanese) wife and I were halfway up a mountain in Austria, climbing a steep rocky path beside a cataract with overhanging cliffs. ‘Awesome’ is a devalued word but that’s what it was. Beautiful, but overwhelming, almost terrifying: the roar of the water, the spray, the clammy shadow of the cliffs, the precipice. And as we approached the ridge, we came across two guys sitting on a rock. This not being the sort of place where you pass by strangers without acknowledging them, I said hello, and in response the older one gave us a mouthful of racist abuse.
It’s a trivial incident in some ways, but at the time it was the last fucking straw. It crystallized a lot of negative feelings and I suppose the songs are a way of working them out.
SEM: Your work has always struck a balance between humor and heartbreak–not an easy line to walk. But this collection seems heavy on the heartbreak–is this your darkest set yet?
ME: Yes, I think I may have fallen off. And it’s a different sort of heartbreak. There’s no boy-girl stuff here. And not much scope for wisecracks in a song about genocide, for instance. But I do try to touch on the lighter side of alienation and despair.
SEM: Do you find songs come faster or slower than say, ten years ago?
ME: The writing? Much more quickly. With this album, the writing was easy. All the ideas for subjects/lyrics came in a rush. I’d just pick one and let it run around my head till I got some kind of hook, musical or lyrical. Then I sat down with the guitar and the rest would generally just fall into place. There’s always a lot of rewriting and polishing, and I like to give the music a bit of a twist, which can complicate things, but it’s recording the damn things that takes the time.
SEM: Can you talk a bit about the cover art? It’s so deliciously…glum!
ME: This gives me an opportunity to gush about Dave Coverly, aka Speed Bump (speedbump.com), who did the painting. Dave is an insightful and funny cartoonist, with an underlying warmth that I find very appealing. He’s been lending his talent to my artwork ever since Hotel Figueroa. I love his drawings, and the watercolours he did both for this album and the last are stunning. This one is very bleak, but there’s still something compassionate about it, I think. It’s based on an image borrowed from T. S. Eliot (and I’d like several similar offences be taken into consideration):
Here is a place of disaffection…
… Only a flicker
Over the strained time-ridden faces
Distracted from distraction by distraction
Filled with fancies and empty of meaning
Tumid apathy with no concentration
Men and bits of paper, whirled by the cold wind
That blows before and after time,
Wind in and out of unwholesome lungs
Time before and time after.
He goes on to rail against ‘this twittering world’ – talk about prescient. I’ve had this passage from ‘Burnt Norton’ running around my head a lot while I’ve been making this album, and the ‘strained time-ridden faces’ and ‘Men and bits of paper whirled by the cold wind that blows before and after time’ were the starting point for the cover. The rest of it, and in particular the idea of the gig, the flyers, the venue and the neon sign – the story if you like – came from Dave, with the help of ace designer Mau Carey (www.c23creative.com).
SEM: Production-wise, have you gotten used to the “new” way of recording albums compared to the days with the JBC?
ME: Yes, it’s quite hard to imagine working in any other way now. Sometimes it drives me nuts, but I suppose I’m a bit of a control-freak and perfectionist, so to that extent it suits. At least I’m not driving anyone else nuts. On the other hand, when I finally get to the point of involving other people, it is a lot more fun. I guess if someone at Universal had some kind of breakdown and offered me a huge budget to make an album, I’d go to some fancy studio or other, borrow Gerry Brown and Nate Watts from Stevie Wonder and get Brian Eno to help out with the production. Or maybe I’d just let John Rivers record it and spend Eno’s fee on a Caribbean Island. He’s probably not the right man for me anyway – got too many ideas. So I’ll settle for John. Not that John’s short on ideas you understand. And I’ll stick with Gerry and Nate – if they’ll throw in a tour.
SEM: What does 2011 hold in store for you?
ME: Probably not much. But that’s how I like it these days.