November 30, 2000

Welcome to the Flip Side

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Everclear frontman Art Alexakis promised that Vol. 2 would be the rocker. If Songs From An American Movie Vol. 1 was conceived as the soundtrack to a sappy love story, then Vol. 2: Good Time For A Bad Attitude, was conceived as a foil to the optimistic complacency of Learning How To Smile. Vol. 2 is the rock yang to the pop yin of the first album. The melodies of Vol. 1 are still here, they’re just buried under more layers: more guitars, more vocals, and definitely more attitude.

“Yes, I think it’s safe to say/I feel good about the place I have made in the world today,” sings Alexakis on the album opener, “When It All Goes Wrong Again,” the first of three bonafied rock tracks that start the album. Submissiveness has ceded to defiance, but the message remains the same: Alexakis wants us to know that he is a changed man.

There are no unabashed radio hits, a la “A.M. Radio,” but songs like “Rock Star” and the curiously self-deprecating “Short Blond Hair” have their own sing-along appeal: “All I ever wanted to do/Was play guitar in a rock ‘n’ roll band/Now I’m losing my hair/And I’m learning how to smile like I just don’t care” confesses Alexakis on the latter track, a humorous caricature of his career.

In fact, most of the songs have a charmingly peculiar undercurrent of humor running through them. “Slide” and “Out Of My Depth” are buoyed by the tongue-in-cheek lyrics rather than burdened by any sort of transparent misery. The one exception, of course, is “Halloween Americana,” a classic rock-inspired guitar instrumental unlike anything on either album. The ukelele from Vol. 1 has apparently been put back in the closet.

And that’s OK, because this album isn’t supposed to charm us with its melodies or sooth us with its lyrics. Everclear did not set out to reprise Vol. 1 with this effort, they set out to redefine it. To compare the two is as futile as comparing the individual CD’s in a two CD set; they were designed as perfect complements, not perfect substitutes.

Take the two-part track “Song From An American Movie,” “Part One” of which appeared on Vol. 1. As the bookend to the two-cd series, “Part Two” completes the circle started by its Vol. 1 counterpart. Although the calming serenity of the first track has been replaced by an uneasy complacency, not much has changed in the three months since the release of the first album. Alexakis still sings: “The only thing that ever made sense to me/ Were the words to a song from an American movie.” And in case we forgot, he once again confides that “Just the sound of my little girl laughing/ Makes me happy just to be alive.” The cheerful pretensions might be gone, but the sincerity remains.

It’s hard not to sound sincere when singing about the pain of a troubled childhood and the drama of a failed marriage. To be sure, Alexakis has been tackling these themes for a while now, but just because there isn’t a story behind every song, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a storyteller. Vol. 2 might not have the engaging vignettes found on Vol. 1, or its emotional cohesiveness, or even its quaint charm. There are no heartfelt confessions or tender promises. Instead,there are another 12 ballads, only this time they are masquerading as rock tunes.

Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 … truly the yin and yang of pop and rock.

Archived article by Michael Tivin