After two albums largely given over to songs of romantic obsession, Cliff Eberhardt lightened up on Mona Lisa Café. Of course, his interest in love continued to peek through, sometimes transformed into the third person, a form of address previously foreign to him ("Life Is Hard," "She Loved He"), sometimes filtered through a trip to a museum ("Mona Lisa Waits"), sometimes expressed with a distanced wistfulness previously uncharacteristic of him ("Why Do Lovers [Have to Say Goodbye]"). The singer who used to like to declare things like "I will take my chances," was still on the side of commitment to true love, but in "She Loved He" he seemed to be talking about other people. For once, the humor of his live performances began to come out in rollicking songs like "Trouble for Life" and "Is It Wrong to Feel So Good (At This Time of My Life)." And some of the old passion was still apparent on "Everything Is Almost Gone," even if the song itself was an old one. But you couldn't help thinking that Eberhardt hadn't had enough time in the 21 months since his last album to come up with enough quality material. There were minor efforts, a cover of a Dire Straits song, a co-composition with David Wilcox, and even a pop song written by producer Peter Gallway. Maybe Eberhardt's obsessions had eased, or maybe he was listening to advisors who wanted him to take a more commercial turn. In any case, though there were individual gems on the disc, Mona Lisa Café was Eberhardt lite, an album that backed away from the singer/songwriter's creative development rather than continuing it.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann