If the third time’s the charm, then what is the fourth? If you’re Eytan Mirsky, and we’re talking about his fourth studio release, then it’s even more charm. Everyone’s Having Fun Tonight! continues in the fine tradition of 2001’s Was It Something I Said? and serves up 16 fine tracks of the sort of instantly accessible charm-pop that Mirsky is known for.
On this new collection, the songs remain bouncy and infectious, the delivery comfortable and confident, while Mirsky has grown in stature through having his music placed in films. An alumnus of NYU’s Graduate Film School (and an excellent film editor in his own right), singer/songwriter Mirsky placed two songs in Jenniphr Goodman’s The Tao of Steve. Todd Solondz’s Happiness featured Michael Stipe singing Mirsky’s song of the same name (the Mirsky version appears on this new CD). More recently, Mirsky appeared in and sang the title song in the critically acclaimed Harvey Pekar biopic American Splendor (that song is here as well). Mirsky’s streak of song placement has continued in Robert Altman’s The Company, as well as in Todd Solondz’s upcoming Palindromes (scheduled for theatrical release in 2005).
For this latest release, Mirsky again teams up with guitarists Jon Gordon (former lead guitarist and arranger for Suzanne Vega) and Larry Saltzman (who was seen and heard playing guitar and other instruments in the 2003-2004 Simon and Garfunkel reunion tour). Most of the tracks feature drums by Warren Odze (or by Vin Scialla otherwise). Gordon produced, mixed, and mastered the CD as well, keeping the sounds masterfully clean.
The opening track (sounding vaguely reminiscent of “Back of My Hand” by the new wave band the Jags) is called “She’s Looking Better”, and features a rip-roaring harmonica solo by Jason Rosen. The lyrics tell a variant of the “grass is always greener” tale about a girl who is prettier than anyone he’s ever seen now that she’s no longer his — a most believable irony.
“Why Does It Have to Be That Way?” is a cute ditty about a self-absorbed someone who manages to not get too involved with religion or politics, per se, yet gets philosophical over a more personal issue: “I never stop to question the pain the world lives under / But when I see you out with him I cannot help but wonder / Why does it have to be that way?”
Mirsky also explores the converse situation in the uber-catchy “If You Wanna Save the World” (written for, but not included in, another film). Here’s a guy who doesn’t have time to play, but he’s ready to join up if you’re fixing to save the world: “Hey, if you wanna waste your time / Well, that’s just fine with me / But I feel like saving humanity”.
The title track has sort of a retro, Sam Cooke standard feel to it. There’s the buzz of a party in the chorus, reflecting the global celebration that seems to include everyone except poor Mirsky. This lovable outsider stance is familiar from past songs, and has almost become the Mirsky trademark.
It’s evident in the winsome song “Bad Bad Luck”, wherein the hapless pursuer of a date is sincerely given every excuse in the book and then some. A look of rejection is the topic matter of “Don’t Gimme That Look”, portrayed as the “cruelest form of punishment that the world has ever known” in a song that’s a distant musical relative of the Monkees’ “Last Train to Clarksville.”
Used to this constant rejection, what would happen to a guy who suddenly finds himself accepted? Mirsky gives us the answer with “What’s Wrong With You?”, believing there must be something wrong with a woman that falls for him.
When you hear the soundtrack songs, there’s no denying their catchiness. “Happiness” is spilling over with pop ebullience, a musical search for that elusive quality. “American Splendor” is more of a quiet affair, the kind of simple vocal and guitar performance you’d get in a coffeehouse, which serves its subject well: a man born to “live, suffer, and die” who struggles on, fighting the good fight.
Another song written for a film (but ultimately not used) is “Hairy Situation”, about a woman who suffers from hirsutism. It’s another catchy tune (though I’ll avoid saying it grows on you).
Mirsky switches into retro Cars-mode with “This Song”, an infectious admission of the limits to what a song can achieve: “This song is just an empty melody / This song at any speed, in any key / This song is useless as a thing can be / ‘Cause this song can’t make you fall in love with me”.
Romantics will be able to identify with “A Hundred Times a Day”, about someone who falls in love at least a hundred times each day (but who’s counting?). Sure, there are those who would scoff at the sheer volume of it, but Mirsky answers his critics: “You can tell me that it’s not real, what I’m feeling inside / This kind of love may not be too deep / But it sure as hell is wide.”
Now and again we do get romance or a straight love song — for example, “Make You Feel Good” is a musical feel-good promise of making one feel even better.
Mirsky’s smart and cynical at times. Witness the tongue firmly in cheek in “Let’s Just Start With Goodbye”, a countrified rocker in the style of Nick Lowe or Dave Edmunds that proposes to save time and trouble in a relationship: “Let’s just start with goodbye and say we’ve had enough / Let’s just start with goodbye and leave out all the painful stuff”.
For those of you in search of a good stocking stuffer, the CD also features a timely holiday song, “The Only Present I Want This Year”, dismissing material needs in favor of emotional ones: “The only present I want this year is to have you close and to hold you near / Yeah, the only present I want this year is you”.
Mirsky covers a lot of bases, ending the CD with “Reciproco”, another power pop ballad, yet this one sung in Spanish.
With 16 tracks in all, Everyone’s Having Fun Tonight! is a solid package of beguiling and bewitching pop. Mirsky’s well-structured songs display a strong kinship with the classic pop sensibilities of Nick Lowe, Buddy Holly, early Elvis Costello, and Marshall Crenshaw (and more recently, Walter Clevenger and Eugene Edwards). So treat yourself to some musical charm this holiday season courtesy of Eytan Mirsky, and get this extra bonus: you won’t have to wait around for the credits to roll to know who’s singing that catchy song.