August 31, 2000

More Bitter Than Sweet

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The happy California trio Everclear (sometimes thought of as teh younger generation’s Beach Boys, in an altered, hornier and more drugged out form) has all but cornerned the market on “songs you’d play while driving to the beach to pick up girls.” And if a band’s contribution to music can be appreciated for nothing more than exactly what it is–fun summer music about ex-girlfriends and nostalgia for the happy days of a beach bum’s youth–then Everclear’s fourth, extravagantly entitled Songs From An American Movie, Vol. One: Learning How To Smile, is a success–of sorts.

With their new album they have taken steps towards evolving past much of the fun and carelessness that characterized the feel and the lyrics of their first three albums, into dealing with problems far worse than “low tide at the beach.”

Indicative from the album’s title, Songs is an ironically self-aware attempt to associate their songs with the existing cliche of the classic American film utopia where life is full of cookie cutter houses, no welfare, no divorce, and a happy ending to every story.

It is quite appropriate, then, that the twelve songs send messages of bouncing back from hardships, headlining with their first single, “Wonderful,” which seems to be the anthem of the album and evidence that both bitterness and hopefulness for the future can co-exist in the same song.

The band steps up and shows that “feel-good music” does not necessarily need to be mindless in its content. In fact, the album starts with “Song From An American Movie” and ends with “Annabella’s Song,” which both deal with the lead vocalist/lyricist Art Alexakis’ estrangement from his baby daughter. The selling point of this album is that despite the apparent gloominess of some of the lyrics, Everclear pulls off an appropriate melody for all twelve of the tracks on the disc–most having that unique, upbeat feel like their songs of the past (in particular “Here We Go Again,” “AM Radio,” and their creative cover version of Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl”).

It is quite often the case that a band’s fourth album will show some semblance of a progression towards a new impulse in order to escape predictability. And so the apparent shift towards the melodramatic on this new disc in songs dealing with Alexakis’ divorce, such as “Thrift Store Chair” and “Now That It’s Over,” is something that could have been expected.

Alexakis’ lyrics still have traces of light-hearted humor in them, best typified in “Unemployed Boyfriend,” a song about meeting a cute girl at the unemployment office, offering to be her Romeo and thus saving her from the post-college, upper-middle class suburbanite ennui in which she complacently resides. Okay, so that may be a reach, but Everclear, with Songs From An American Movie, pokes fun at themselves with their askew vision of American utopia, which is actually closer to a reality that we would think. I mean, there are things way worse than low tide, man, most def…

Archived article by Justin Lerner