Sure seemed like Art Alexakis and company would take over the world at the turn of the Millenium. Everclear had just come off two popular albums in Sparkle And Fade and So Much For The Afterglow and ambitiously slated two CDs in rapid succession for 2000, despite the odds – neither Bruce Springsteen nor Guns’N'Roses was able to turn that parlor trick into success. But no one ever called Art Alexakis shy…at least not as an adult. Hence the first (and better of the two) salvo, Songs From An American Movie Volume One.
Everclear is still around – the website has been recently revitalized – but the creation of new music has slowed to a crawl. In 2008 there was an album of covers, and they are currently working on re-recording old hits and fan favorites for a 2009 project titled In A Different Light. But back in 2000, Everclear was on top of it all. Here’s my original thoughts about that classic effort nine years ago…
Subtitled Learning How To Smile, the first of two Everclear disks slated for 2000 finds Art Alexakis on the rebound and channeling it into his music. Although if I were a label guy, the entire Everclear catalogue could be gathered in a boxed set called More Songs About Depression And Reality. Alexakis now seems to see the silver lining in his personal clouds and equates this optimism with recollections (or yearnings for) youthful innocence and the simple joys of life, like AM radio. And if the “American Gothic” cover pose doesn’t clue you in, the lyrics certainly hammer the point home.
The song “AM Radio” opens with an aircheck and features some peppered period dialogue, a sample of the old hit “Mr. Big Stuff”, and a refrain that will put a smile on your face (“I like pop/I like soul/I like rock/But I never liked disco.”). The last note segues into a loose and funky cover of Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl”; a not so subtle reminder that radio used to be the land of classic pop music of all types, not today’s demographically segregated offerings (FM) and shock-jock talk babble (AM). As the song fades, Alexakis adds his own coda – “sing along when I hear it on the radio now..”.
Several of Art’s new songs offer cautionary promises within their supposed optimism. In “Learning How To Smile” Art says tells the girl that he will “never let them break your heart” and that “life just keeps getting smaller and we never ask why”. “Unemployed Boyfriend” finds Art promising that he “will never be like those other guys”, and in the song to his daughter (“Annabella’s Song”) his repetitive chorus reassures her that “you are never alone”. The over-the-top strings on the last track make it sound like the soundtrack from an old afternoon movie; perhaps metaphorically a pointer back to simpler times when family life was far less complicated and seemingly much more secure.
Alexakis explored his personal history (broken home) on the last record with songs like “Father Of Mine”, and spends much of his time away from music campaigning against deadbeat dads. Recently divorced, he dives into his angst again with “Wonderful”, which sounds like the type of song that would be all smiles, but is anything but. Speaking from the perspective of a child (young Art, now also his daughter), he longs for “my life to be the same just like it used to be” and pleads “please don’t tell me that everything is wonderful now”.
Many of Alexakis’ songs sound like branches from the same root, as his lyrics often have a similar cadence. But where So Much For The Afterglow sounded like variations on the same demo song, here the diversity of his production approach yields much greater results. The pseudo hip-hop beat and na-na-na chorus on “Wonderful” and “Here We Go Again” are infectious as hell, and Songs From An American Movie is littered with hooks. As much as Art’s public persona can seem to be a little overbearing at times, with every record he proves that he is one hell of a songwriter. We are a long way from “Santa Monica”, Toto.