Tag Archives: Everclear

Blast From The Past: Everclear

A little over two years ago I regurgitated an old review about the first volume of Everclear’s Songs From An American Movie twin pack, Learning How To Smile. After hearing “When It All Goes Wrong Again” the other day, I decided it was time to unearth the other, which originally ran in Amplifier Magazine eleven years ago.

So without further ado

Aw, anyone could have a bad year…” (“Here We Go Again”)

Double albums used to be a fairly commonplace treat in The Age Of Vinyl, but now they’re as scarce as the green-bearded turtle. How many significant double CDs have been out recently? Wilco’s Being There, and uh…. Hell, these days “prolific” means releasing an album every two years. Record companies – when they do promote your record – will drop your last project like the plague if you issue a follow-up.

Art Alexakis cares passionately about a lot of things, but following the rules isn’t one of them. He planned the two-pronged attack last year with the hope that it would garner some attention, though ironically the success of the first record may get truncated by the emergence of the second. But with his songs all over the radio and his videos the toast of television, Art has a problem most artists would kill for. And with twenty-four new Everclear tracks dropped in our laps, we’re not doing so bad either. The two releases, like Wilco’s two discs, could co-exist as one package or survive independently. Not every track is a keeper, but the percentage is damned high.

Video: “Wonderful

Volume One’s clever homage to youth and the loss of innocence is one of the best releases of 2000, with songs recreated (“Brown Eyed Girl”) and borrowed (“AM Radio” is a tree from the seed of “Mr. Big Stuff”) among a bagful of …gulp….pop songs? Even the crunching riffs of “Wonderful” are offset by the “na-na-na-na-na-na” chorus that’s too infectious to resist, and the string-soaked “Annabella’s Song” (Art’s ode to his daughter) sounds like it was lifted from a classic Hollywood movie. The kitsch of “Unemployed Boyfriend” is a matter of taste, but the acoustic waltz of “The Honeymoon Song” is as delightful as it is surprising. Ditto “Thrift Store Chair”, a sleeper Americana cut with a John Prine (!) reference.

The hardest sounding song on the record might be “Now That It’s Over”, which is really a fat pop hook covered with echoes and John Bonham drum sound. But one look at the imaginative video for “AM Radio” will tell you all you need to know about a man whose life was much closer to Chico And The Man than The Brady Bunch. Alexakis’ heroin-addicted past and intolerance of deadbeat dads are well-known plot lines; perhaps now he can finally find solace in the charms of what should have been a normal childhood.

Video: “When It All Goes Wrong Again

Volume Two’s edge is harder, louder and closer to the classic “Santa Monica” era. The blatant “Rock Star” (“I just want to be a rock star/I just want to get laid”) is probably as true as it is self-mocking. Maybe “Short Blond Hair” is even more telling, where Art claims that “no one really understands just how simple and plain and predictable I am”. Not necessarily true, Art – many critics claim that you’ve been beating the same riff to death for years. The truth actually lies more in the middle – “just when I think I have driven my life to where I wanted it to be/it takes me to a place where I do not want to go”. Everclear was arguably the Band of 2000…so where do you go when you’re “first class living in a goldfish bowl”?

When It All Goes Wrong Again” and “Misery Whip” boast a guitar sound straight outta Jimmy Page (so maybe there should have been a song called “FM Radio”?), and “Slide” and “Babytalk” are as raucous as anything the band has ever recorded. But check out the old softie on “The Good Witch Of The North” and the title track (where he gives closure to the opening track on Volume One), and you see the sentiment from Volume One slipping right back in. Yeah, Art might bitch about asshole ex-wives and loser friends and tripping over his mistakes, but all that pose pales against “the sound of my little girl laughing/through the window of a summer night”.

Everclear survived because they once had nothing to lose, and their anthems for the disaffected rang true with a substantial body of listeners. And even now, with his career a success, Art can still draw inspiration for his songs from a life full of imperfections and missed opportunities. But underneath the bluster of being a rock star, there are a pair of young eyes who will always need him on a different level, and Art knows that he will be “sitting on top when it all goes wrong again“.

Listen to clips and buy at Amazon

Everclear website

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Radio Records

Happy Radio Day!

Well, that’s if you believe that Popov invented the concept instead of Marconi or Tesla. (And if everyone believed that, would we have had a band named Popov instead of these guys? Would Marconi not have played the mamba?

Celebrate the day anyway – it is Friday, after all – and blast some music out your car window. You might also want to celebrate by seeing films like American Hot Wax and The Boat That Rocked, a/k/a Pirate Radio.

Here are ten radio-related songs to get you started…

Joe Jackson:  “On The Radio”   Not the best song on I’m A Man, but that’s how strong the early Joe Jackson albums were (and how tight the band is).

Bruce Springsteen:  “Radio Nowhere”  I like Bruce’s social conscience, and I can appreciate the whole Woody Guthrie thing and his passion for the roots of music. But sometimes I just like a great Bruce single, and this is one.

Rush:  “Spirit of the Radio”  I was never a big Rush fan, mostly because Geddy Lee’s voice is like chalk on a blackboard to me. But when he shuts up and the band jams…wow.

Warren Zevon:  “Mohammed’s Radio”   Great live version (with Jackson Browne). God, I miss this man.

The Doors:  “WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)”  I know a lot of people hate The Doors and think Jim Morrison was an overrated ponce, but I think L.A. Woman was a phenomenal album; an indication of what might have been.

Everclear:  “AM Radio”  One can argue that many of Art’s songs sound like they’re built on the same rhythm and chord progression, but you can’t knock his ability to combine humor and pathos. Great video, too.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch:  “Midnight Radio”   If you have not seen this film, you need to run to the store and get the DVD. John Cameron Mitchell’s performance is amazing, and thanks to Steven Trask, this is arguably the best rock and roll soundtrack ever. That’s right…ever. The original cast recording from the play is as good or better than the film soundtrack, but get both.

R.E.M.:  “Radio Free Europe”   The song that started it all for them, and one listen brings back that era in a flash, when these guys sounded so different from everybody else.

John Hiatt:  “Radio Girl”  The video sadly cuts off at the end, but I’m thankful even this much exists. John doesn’t play songs from Slug Line and Two Bit Monsters anymore, and that’s our loss.

Elvis Costello:  “Radio Radio”   Elvis Costello hit the ground with an astounding one-two-three punch of albums, and I wish I had a good rip of his initial SNL appearance when he played this song. But this nod and wink to that event with the Beastie Boys is pretty damned cool.

And your bonus trackJonathan Richman’sRoad Runner“. Priceless!

Got my radio ON!

Tim Russert would have been sixty today. RIP, buddy.

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New Album! Everclear

I will buy me a new life

"Here comes the darkness again / I can see a light at the end of the tunnel"

Everclear’s Art Alexakis is many things – songwriter, producer, singer, musician – but perhaps his strongest attribute is survivor. As a child, he grew up in a single parent household in a tough neighborhood after his father abandoned the family (famously captured in song as “Father Of Mine”). He’s gone through the pit of drug abuse and come out the other side intact. Hell, he’s even been married and divorced three times.

And now he’s once again shedding his skin, but this time it’s his band members and catalogue getting a celebratory dance before he moves on to new challenges. In case you had any doubt, a picture’s worth a thousand words. On the inner photo of In A Different Light, a quintet of musicians walks a road together, laughing, smiling. The cover photo has Alexakis alone, guitar in hand, heading towards a bright light.

Then again, he’s pretty direct about what Everclear was and is. In his online blog he states: “without getting into specifics,……it had run it’s course….some guys left because i wanted them to,….some guys left because they wanted to,….it is what it is….you all know that this is and has always been my band….is was time to move on….i truly wish them all the best in everything they do”. Before the split, however, they were able to record this collection, predominantly revisions and reinterpretations of past classics with two new songs (“At The End of The Day” and “Here Comes The Darkness”). A new band and a brand new album are slated for 2010.

The last few years haven’t been prolific for new Everclear music; after dropping two successful albums in 2000 they released the underwhelming Slow Motion Daydream in 2003. Welcome To The Drama Club followed in 2006, recorded after splitting with Craig Montoya and Greg Eklund, the other members of the lineup that enjoyed the band’s critical and commercial success. Other than that, there were two greatest hits and a covers album keeping the fire lit; so upon first glance one might consider this another commercial placeholder. And while you’d be right, at least it’s an inventive one.

Culling nine of his favorites from over the years, these new recordings find Alexakis in deeper voice and organic mode, acoustic guitar and keyboards as the driving force in place of wall-of-sound electric, beats and cacophony. The results are mostly solid, as deeply personal songs like “I Will Buy You A New Life” and “Learning How To Smile” easily make the transition to a more organic version. It’s impossible to top the appeal and sonic wallop of “Santa Monica”, but this stripped down version is still enjoyable. And “Rock Star” sounds even better than the original.

The new tracks slide in seamlessly. The lyrical content of “Here Comes The Darkness” is again uber-personal, Alexakis ready to go through hell again knowing he has no one to blame but himself. Musically, I prefer the soul/gospel input of Liv Warfield on “At The End of the Day”.  But if these two tracks are indicative of what’s to come, he sounds rejuvenated.

So take a bow Davey French, Josh Crawley, Sam Hudson and Tommy Stewart – your final rodeo as Everclear was a good one. This 11-track CD will be available October 6th on 429 Records, who will also release the new Everclear project in 2010. 

And so it begins…again.

Everclear website

Everclear wiki

429 Records

My review of one of their classics.

***

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Blast From The Past: Everclear

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…

Little pink houses for you and me

Little pink houses for you and me

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.

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