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Monday, May 01, 2006

Sparkle and Fade

Who here remembers Everclear? You couldn't escape them in the mid- to late-'90s with a number of hit singles on the radio and MTV, including "Santa Monica" and "Father of Mine." I remember them very well and still enjoy some of their material. What's interesting is that my favorite album of their's bares a title that also sums up how I feel about the band's career: a major sparkle and a slow, painful fade.

The band's sophomore album, Sparkle and Fade, was my introduction to the band thanks to my bandmate, Carey. He wanted us to cover "Nehalem," so he dubbed me a cassette copy of the whole album. Though we only practiced the song a couple of times and never played it live, I proceeded to play that tape over and over again in my car for the next few months. This was 1995, a year that saw all sorts of pop-punk bands on major labels post-Green Day's breakthrough. Everclear could have been thought of as pop-punk, but they had a lot more going for them, especially in the songwriting department.

Vocalist/guitarist/songwriter/producer Art Alexakis was older than most singer/songwriters of the day. Then in his mid-'30s, Alexakis had seen a really seedy side of life filled with drug overdoses, strained personal relationships, a rough childhood and an uneasy transition into parenthood. He put these experiences into his songs, along with his penchant for writing really tuneful, power pop-tinged songs. For me, as a teenager weaned on grunge made by guys under 30, Everclear was coming from an older and wiser mindset.

Though the band was a trio (rounded out by bassist Craig Montoya and drummer Greg Eklund), they often sounded like a five piece on record. This was definitely the case with their follow-up, '97's So Much for the Afterglow.

Sparkle and Fade had proven to be a steady-selling record prior to the release of the modern rock radio staple of "Santa Monica." The song's midtempo, da-da/da-da/du-du/da-da rhythm would become the Everclear formula for future hit singles. Though I didn't notice this at first, I remember Matt griping that this was all over So Much for the Afterglow. Years later, I realized what he was talking about as I too was groaning about it.

So Much for the Afterglow features some great songs, including a couple of songs that were huge hits for them, like "Father of Mine," the title track, "Amphetamine" and "Everything to Everyone." Per Matt's observation, I kept noticing the "Santa Monica" rhythm in every single Everclear song on the radio. The band had plenty of other rhythms going on elsewhere, but the one that made it to the radio was the most radio-ready. I don't blame the band or label for doing this, but I think this would be the beginning of decline for the band. That and the ever-growing influence of Art Alexakis, the guy that does everything, instead of Everclear, the band.

Alexakis wrote all the songs, produced the records, did A&R for Capitol, directed the band's videos and other things, thus making him the star of the whole show. At the time, Alexakis did all these things very well, but I grew tired of his persona. Yeah, he wrote some great songs with some really great lyrical themes, but by the time of his solo-record-that-turned-into-an-Everclear-album, Songs from an American Movie Vol. 1, I began to lose interest. By the time the second volume of the Songs from an American Movie and the band's Behind the Music appeared, I pretty much stopped caring. When their final album for Capitol, 2003's Slow Motion Daydream, came out, I couldn't believe how bad it was.

According to the band's website (which is currently a mere MySpace page), I see that the band's name is still used, but the band you knew as Everclear back in the day is gone. Montoya and Eklund are gone as Alexakis runs the band with four other guys. Yeah, Alexakis may have been the guy that wrote the songs, but Montoya and Eklund made them something special as a band. People can say Alexakis was the star, but he also went too far as the star of the band. His control-freak/workaholic persona maybe drove his bandmates away and listeners away for good. Eklund currently fronts a band called the Oohlas and Montoya plays in a band called Tri-Polar.

I'm not one to wish for a reunion of the classic Everclear lineup. If it were to happen, cool, but I'm not waiting for it to happen. Instead, I revisit my slightly dusty copy of Sparkle and Fade on CD. Listening to most of the album this morning in my car, I remembered my old high school days of driving around and listening to that dubbed copy. The nice thing was that I was en route to a place I really enjoyed being at instead of a place I could really care less about. High school wasn't horrible, but I find myself enjoying life a whole lot more now compared to back in those days.

2 comments:

swirly girl said...

I'm with you on the Spakle and Fade opinion. My fave off that album was always, always, always, 'Strawberry'.

Cari said...

I remember listening to Santa Monica over and over again while dreaming of leaving Lubbock for L.A.

I still feel like packing a bag and hauling ass when I hear that song.