Mark Eitzel had just been named Songwriter of the Year by Rolling Stone. His band, American Music Club, saw its album Everclear ranked at the top of 1991's best albums. Yet, the group's signing to a major label never translated into commercial success. Eitzel's first "official" solo album, the excellent 60 Watt Silver Lining, was a commercial disappointment as well. His friend and labelmate, R.E.M.'s Peter Buck, then decided to offer his help, hearing in Eitzel the emotional commitment that critics had also singled out. The results were songs that split down the middle between the two songwriters' sensibilities. "If You Have to Ask" starts slowly and methodically, with a sweet whistling solo at the song's end to show that all hope isn't lost. "Free of Harm" adds Buck's trademark jangle and a chorus that pleads for accessibility. "In Your Life" kicks Eitzel into an uptempo rocker that forces him to move more quickly and not ponder his usual existential questions. Buck gave Eitzel new tonal colors to work with, and songs like "Then It Really Happens" and "Lower Eastside Tourist" make the album a rewarding listen.