Saturday, April 28, 2012

Another Distinct, But Mediocre Outing From Everclear: Songs From An American Movie, Vol. 1: Learning How To Smile!

The Good: Great sound, Decent lyrics, Generally good sound
The Bad: Musically limited, Derivative of earlier works
The Basics: Distinctly Everclear, Songs From An American Movie, Vol. 1 is a decent pop-rock album, but nothing new or distinctive from this fairly limited trio.

I'm beginning to think that people who read my reviews think I dislike Everclear. I seldom rate their albums - so far - very high and the reason for that is that I actually like Everclear. In fact, I think I might like the group quite a bit. The problem I almost always run into when reviewing Everclear albums is because I like the singles I've heard of theirs, I'm very tuned into their distinct sound. So when everything I hear on a new (to me) album, sounds like something I've already heard from the group, it becomes very hard for me to recommend the new work.

In short, Everclear's strength and flaw are one in the same; they have a distinct, unique sound, but they are very much trapped within it.

This is true of Everclear's 2000 album Songs From An American Movie, Vol. 1: Learning How To Smile, which I will call Vol. 1 henceforth. Vol. 1 is a classic Everclear album featuring the vocals and guitars of Art Alexakis, the bass of Craig Montoya and Greg Ecklund on Drums. The trio uses James Beaton on keyboard for some tracks. Vol. 1 is best known for the much-overplayed song "Wonderful," which might well be Everclear's defining song.

While contemplating this album, I believe I finally came up with the analogy that describes how I see Everclear limited, which is not necessarily their fault, as they are a trio. Everclear's distinct sound is like a perspective drawing. Up front is the voice of Art Alexakis. He is articulate and direct and his vocals are front, center and big. In the middle distance are the guitars, which are almost always epic, strumming and similar. Then, in the background, are the drums and sampling.

A great example of this effect is on the track "Unemployed Boyfriend." The track begins with a sample or vocal presentation by a woman who is setting up the song. The moment the guitars come in, they are playing over her. The moment Alexakis comes in, he's louder and more forceful than either. The thing is, I like this a lot about Everclear (which is why "Unemployed Boyfriend" is my favorite track unique to Vol. 1). I'm tired of rock and roll bands who might have decent lyrics, but you can never understand them because they are drown out by thrashing guitars.

All of the tracks on Vol. 1 are articulate and listenable. You can hear and understand every word. Alexakis is a wonderful singer, too. While usually I chide artists for not challenging themselves, Alexakis is perfect in his range. He knows what works for him - and the band - and he keeps it there. It works and it keeps the music listenable, even if the group does not appear to grow between albums.

Part of what keeps me coming back to Everclear is the lyrics. Vol. 1 is a lot of music about people listening to music. In fact, "AM Radio" is a brilliant retrospective what it was like in the 70s to simply listen to the radio. The cover Everclear does of Van Morrison's classic "Brown Eyed Girl," which they righteously reinterpret, accents well the lines about listening to the radio. Part of the reason "Wonderful" was so successful is there were no songs like it on the radio at the time. In "Wonderful," Alexakis taps into the universal divorced with children experience by singing, "I don't want to hear you say / We both have grown in a different way . . . I don't wanna start over again / I just want my life to be the same / Just like it used to be . . ."

And the clever lyrics are backed by the distinctive guitars and bass of the rest of the band, making this album archetypal Everclear album. But some of that is problematic. For example, on "Otis Redding," - another song about listening to music! - Alexakis sings ". . . Sit and watch the stars glide. . ." with the same tune as ". . . watch the world die" from Everclear's first mainstream hit, "Santa Monica."

The reason Vol. 1 is so close to an enduring album is that four of the five best tracks are included on the Best Of Everclear album and the remainder are not shabby. In fact, the album bookends well with Vol. 2: Good Time For A Bad Attitude, though I think it might have been more value for our dollars for them to release the work as a double album. Ultimately, my "recommend" comes down to this; the only place to get "Unemployed Boyfriend" is this album and that song amuses me.

So, it's a weak recommendation, but I think it ought to be enjoyable to anyone who likes pop-rock they can understand and music with generally good lyrics. This is music for people who like listening to music. It's for fans of Everclear, but not people who like what they've heard of Everclear and are expecting to hear something different. This is not. But it is what it is and that's - at the least - good.

The best song is "AM Radio" which is clever and fun and the final track "Annabella's Song" failed to wow me in any way, making it the worst.

For other works by Everclear, be sure to visit my reviews of:
So Much For The Afterglow
Songs From An American Movie, Vol. Two: A Good Time For A Bad Attitude
Wonderful (single)


For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the albums and singles I have reviewed!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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