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Songs From an American Movie Vol. One: Learning How To Smile

music reviewmusic review  out of 4

All-Reviews.com Music Review: Songs From an American Movie Vol. One: Learning How To Smile

Artist: Everclear
Genre: Rock/Pop
Release Date: July 2000


Review by LarryG
2 stars out of 4

Everclear's last CD, 1997's So Much For The Afterglow, was in heavy rotation in my player for a long time. A bunch of songs jumped out on first listen: the punky title track; the juiced up rocker Normal Like You and Everything To Everyone, which had great flow and undulating keyboards. At first, I Will Buy You A New Life and Father of Mine just seemed solid and sincere. But their sad tales of troubled regular folk held up to repeated listens better than other music on the radio. Learning How To Smile is not as good as its predecessor. A lot of Learning How To Smile doesn't make an impression. Art Alexakis plays introspective songs that don't suit him and rehashes his previous work.

Learning How To Smile has a couple of strong singles. Wonderful has the rich, layered sound Everclear are so good at making. Keyboards and Greg Eklund's shuffling drums keep things moving. Alexakis poignantly recalls hoping everything could be O.K. between his soon to separate parents but not wanting others to patronize him by saying everything's fine. But Wonderful has a feeling of deja vu and diminishing returns. Its similarity with Father Of Mine goes beyond being another tale of an emotionally abandoned youth. Wonderful, like most of their singles, builds in intensity from a quiet start, ending with Alexakis' repeated screams of "no" instead of the yeahs of Father Of Mine. AM Radio has a nice loose feel with an easy beat, Alexakis' relaxed rap and the band's trademark bouncy keyboards. A sample of the horns from the 70's R&B hit Mr. Big Stuff creates a great groove. Alexakis' nostalgia for his 70's youth is kind of cute but his use of R & B rather than hip hop for his most dancable song so far, his put down of modern technology and his need to keep saying "I never liked disco" is consistent with an insular attitude. Everclear keep repeating the same kinds of music. Everclear's limited range has its worst effect on their cover of Van Morrison's Brown Eyed Girl. There's nothing wrong with changing a classic. An ideal cover respects the original while bringing something new to it. John Mellancamp did a good job with Wild Night, creating a modern groove that built from the original's bass line. Everclear slow down Brown Eyed Girl and suck the energy out of it. It becomes just another vaguely rocking midtempo, keyboard enhanced Everclear song.

Beyond the singles, Learning How To Smile isn't too interesting. Alexakis' self centered lyrics are too noticable without the vibrant, full arrrangements of Everclear's best music. Those not interested in Alexakis' feelings and personal problems will find Learning How To Smile a little boring. The CD opens with Alexakis, backed only by a mandolin, singing over and over that the sound of his girl laughing makes him happy to be alive. Over slow, bombastic music on Now That It's Over, Alexakis rants about a breakup. He yells "yeah right" about the possibility of being friends and wishes he could tell her to fuck herself. Here We Go Again is O.K. but it sounds like AM Radio without the sample's drive or a mellower version of Sparkle & Fade's Santa Monica or Afterglow's One Hit Wonder. On Here We Go Again, Alexakis screws up a good relationship by glamorizing his presuccess life.

Alexakis isn't at his best as an introspective folk rocker. Neither the music nor lyrics are interesting as he drags out an acoustic guitar song, declaring that "we need to slow it down for a while" on Thriftstore Chair. Otis Redding is a monotonous recollection of the happy days of poverty with a heavy string arrangement strangely reminiscent of Someday My Prince Will Come.

Some of the best songs on Learning How To Smile try something a little different. The Honeymoon Song is unassumingly appealing with Eklund on vocals and ukelele. Unemployed Boyfriend is an interesting proposal to a woman who barely knows him. It's strange(one of Axelakis' claims is "I will always makes you come") but interesting(the woman's spoken reaction is interspersed between the verses) though undermined by ending with the woman saying how cute Art is. The CD ends well with Annabella's Song, which abandons rock instruments for a full orchestra. The lush sound creates a fairy tale feel. Alexakis tells his daughter that he loves her even though he's always on the road.

Often on Learning How To Smile, Everclear aren't at their best. They are a skilled band and there are quite a few good songs. Maybe things will improve musically once Alexakis gets his head together. It's promising that the other half of Songs From An American Movie, Good Time For A Bad Attitude, is supposed to be more of a rocker.

10000031

 


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