Friday, June 1, 2012

Sparkle And Fade Defines Everclear, But Is Not Their Best Work.

The Good: Some wonderful lyrics, Original sound
The Bad: Short, Many of the songs sound like one another
The Basics: With its breakout album Sparkle And Fade, Everclear became a household name, but the album does not age as well as one might hope.

It is a weird thing for me when I finish with an Artist Of The Month and begin on a new artist, only to get something in from the prior Artist Of The Month! While I had moved on to Elvis, I am compelled to go back to review Everclear’s Sparkle And Fade, an album I reviewed years ago on the site I used to work for and accidentally deleted the review of. So, having spun Sparkle And Fade in pretty heavy rotation the last few days, I’m here to present an entirely new review of the breakout album of Everclear.

Sparkle And Fade has a couple songs that are worthwhile that do not appear on either of the compilation albums for Everclear’s early albums, most notably “You Make Me Feel Like A Whore” and “Pale Green Stars.” And they are just enough to recommend Sparkle And Fade. Sparkle And Fade is the album that defined the sound of the trio Everclear as a grungy pop music that was deeply emotional and articulate. In fact, other than being short, the only real problem with Sparkle And Fade is that once the album defines the sound of Everclear, the band never expands upon it. In other words, several of the songs sound like one another.

With fourteen tracks clocking out at 42:45, Sparkle And Fade is very much the artistic vision of Everclear, especially Art Alexakis. Just as Oasis is the Gallagher brothers and whomever can tolerate them long enough to stick around, Everclear is Art Alexakis, with others. In this early incarnation, that included Craig Montoya and Greg Eklund. All songs on the album were written by the band (with help on five tracks by Cuthbert). The band plays all of their own instruments and Art Alexakis produced Sparkle And Fade, as well as providing the lead vocals. As a result, Sparkle And Fade is very much the vision of Everclear, executed as they appeared to want it.

Sparkle And Fade is a pretty solid guitar, bass, and drums album. The music is rock and roll, with enough production to promote the vocals, which forces the listener to listen to the actual lyrics. Indeed, the breakout single from Sparkle And Fade, “Santa Monica,” has almost no actual tune. Instead, the guitar and bass perform mostly repetitive riffs that slowly progress. The music on Sparkle And Fade is not bad, but there are fewer melodies and tunes and more a limited sense of strumming instruments to establish the mood for each song. This is, in many ways, emblematic of the grunge-rock genre.

Vocally, Sparkle And Fade is dominated by Art Alexakis. Alexakis has a distinctive voice that is solidly in the middle masculine register. What works for Alexakis is the way he sings so forcefully to the listener on the album. Virtually every line he sings is clear, crisp and articulate, which sets him apart from almost every other grunge-style artist. He has something to sing and he wants you to hear it. On Sparkle And Fade, that works very well.

Lyrically, Sparkle And Fade is a decent collection of storytelling songs, emotional outbursts, wish fulfillment (“Santa Monica”) and, interestingly enough, deeply emotional perspective pieces. While some of the songs are very repetitive with their lines being sung an inordinate number of times, the bulk of the songs are surprisingly smart. Alexakis and Everclear make an effort to tackle some real social problems in the stories they sing. With lines like “Time stops when the whispers blare / The voices drop hard, but the eyes still stare / The world resolves into a death's head grin / Because I walk with pride with a black girlfriend / My mom said not to bring her around / 'Cause she's black my family would put her down / I'll break the white-trash ties that bind / Trade a love so pure for a hate so blind” (“Heartspark Dollarsign”), the band has something to say and they say it very well.

For a trio of men, Everclear has decent creative abilities to explore the feminine perspective. Songs like “Pale Green Stars” put the band in the female perspective. When Alexakis sings “Skinny little girl in her room alone / She's got hell to spare in her home / If you can call it a home / Doesn't want to be like anybody else / When no one is around she talks to herself . . .It's hard on a girl / When the blood won't come when it ought to come / It's hard on a girl / When you try to walk around on the shaky ground” (“Pale Green Stars”), the listener finds it very easy to understand and empathize.

Everclear also presents songs with raw anger and experiences not entirely common. With “You Make Me Feel Like A Whore,” the band articulately follows a beaten-down lover who just wants to stand up and make his partner feel like she makes him feel. And while “Strawberry” might be specifically singing about drug use, it actually holds up remarkably well for a song about enduring the daily issues we all face. Evolving from the simple to the motivational across the lines “I ask you for a slow ride / Going nowhere / You look like Satan / You ask me if I want to get high / Couple of bags down in old town / You tie your arm and / Ask me if I wanted to drive / Don't fall down now / You will never get up” (“Strawberry”), Everclear makes an enduring statement.

Ultimately, Sparkle And Fade is an auspicious breakout album for Everclear that maintains its relevance after almost two decades. The best song is “You Make Me Feel Like A Whore,” the low point is the repetitive and bland “Nehalem.”

For other works by Everclear, be sure to visit my reviews of:
So Much For The Afterglow
Songs From An American Music, Volume One: Learning How To Smile
Songs From An American Movie, Vol. Two: A Good Time For A Bad Attitude
Wonderful (single)
Ten Years Gone: The Best Of Everclear 1994 - 2004
The Best Of Everclear


For other music reviews, be sure to visit my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

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