San Francisco (Reprise), the seventh album from American Music Club, is the pop record singer Mark Eitzel has long threatened his band would make. But like everything else in their colorful past, it’s sopped in contradiction and probably won’t be a ticket to stardom. With his unparalleled blend of humor, self-deprecation, gushing melodrama, impossible cleverness, and gut-wrenching honesty, Eitzel is one of America’s finest songwriters, but his tendency to overwhelm bright, jumpy ditties with dark, brooding ballads has never been felt more strongly than on the new album. The first single, “Wish the World Away,” is catchy radio fare undermined by Eitzel’s sublimely defeatist cant: “Where’s the message in the bottles / Where’s the miracle in the pills / Where’s the nurse with the needle / Where’s all of my free will.” Just as you’re ready to dismiss Eitzel’s angst he points the dagger at himself, as in the opening to “How Many Six Packs Does It Take to Screw In a Light”: “I never had a lot to bring to the party / But a self-importance far beyond vanity.” Musically, the band’s journey from collegiate popsters with a country sweet tooth to expert makers of richly textured soundscapes continues apace, with a few digressions into hooky hit making. They come off best in a live setting, where Eitzel’s ridiculously engaging presence complements the exquisite sounds crafted by Vudi, their inventive guitarist, and pedal steel player Bruce Kaphan. Cincinnati’s terrific Ass Ponys open. Friday, 10 PM, Lounge Ax, 2438 N. Lincoln; 525-6620.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Dennis Keeley.