Everclear lead singer Art Alexakis should be paying you to buy his albums. With the kind of self-revelatory lyrics he scribes into every song the group releases, the amount of money the man saves on therapy must be astronomical. Luckily, the issues that Alexakis, with the help of drummer Scott Cuthbert and bassist Craig Montoya, spill out on record are easy for most folks to relate to. It helps that, unlike many of their earlier grunge counterparts, Everclear relies on a punk-pop sound similar to Weezer and the Foo Fighters that exists a safe distance away from the emocore. Hence, the comfortable niche their group managed to carve out for itself in the mid to late nineties, when whiney lyrics were on the way out.
The first, and most obvious criticism of Everclear’s latest album Slow Motion Daydream is that the group has become so incredibly derivative of itself that there’s no real point to buying their new stuff, unless you feel compelled to pay the band members’ mortgages and support their double latte habits. But while Slow Motion Daydream isn’t quite as fresh as Everclear sounded on their 1994 debut Sparkle and Fade, a close listen reveals an entirely new layer of angst and existential dread that Alexakis and company have added to their repertoire.
It’s difficult to find a track on Slow Motion Daydream that does not, in some way, boil down to how strange it is to feel miserable with the warm, beautiful sun shining down on your face. From the very first track, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, Alexakis is singing about what a beautiful day it is. But, as he croons, when you stare at the sun, you burn your eyes. The track, and album, begins with the tinny strumming of a guitar followed by a tremendous wall of sound that feels like you’ve been hit by a fullback, and will have you rushing to turn down the speakers if you have thin walls and cranky neighbors. There’s something about the way Art Alexakis sings the word “Yeeeeahhh” here that’s so pathetic and yet so easy to relate to at the same time. The pathetic is ultimately what this song builds up to, as Alexakis repeats that “People love to hit you when you close your eyes”. Sort of like a poor man’s version of Jane’s Addiction’s “Of Course” from Ritual De Lo Habitual, which also deals with the sickening side of human nature.
He builds on this same theme throughout most of the album, culminating near the end with the track “A Beautiful Life”. While this song is superficially just another treatise on sunshine, and feeling sad when you’re supposed to be happy, the writing is sharper here, and the melody more bittersweet. In a way, it’s unfortunate that he saved the best for almost last.
Everclear is at their best when they lay down the poppy punk tracks that made them famous. There are more than a few examples on this album that have plenty of potential to score a top ten hit. You may already be hearing them on your favorite local alternative radio station as you read this. “I Want to Die a Beautiful Death” is a perfect example of the pretty sound they make so well. It’s the same flavor they’ve been churning out since Sparkle And Fade was released eight years ago. If you remember “Santa Monica” from that album, this song will sound familiar. To make it even more obvious, the track even features Art Alexakis’s all-time favorite word in the world: beautiful. As usual, he’s juxtaposing prettiness with some dark, painful aspect of life. In this case the bitter end. If you’re a fan of the group who desperately wishes that they would strive for something better, or at least change things up a little bit, you may find yourself skipping songs like this on the album. But it’s hard not to tap your feet to these tracks. They’re so infectious. It’s makes a perfect copilot if you’re zooming through city traffic.
“Volvo Driving Soccer Mom”, the album’s centerpiece, is going to get Art the most attention of anything on the record. Alexakis sings from the point of view of the song title’s namesake, who happens to be a former stripper who got gang banged in the bathroom at her high-school prom. Alexakis speculates on the current whereabouts of all of the porn star bad girls he used to know in the seedier parts of L.A. where he grew up, and wonders if most of them did not, in fact, make their way out to the suburbs where they started living “normal” lives. There, they became conservative, Volvo-driving soccer moms. In interviews, Alexakis talks about how strange it is to be a former punk cheering his kid on at the sidelines of a soccer game in suburban Seattle. So the blonde-bland-middle-class-Republican life that Alexakis is really mocking here is his own.
The entire album doesn’t wallow in the viciousness of life. The group takes a shot or two at the current state of American politics. “Blackjack” is a subtle reference to Attorney General John Ashcroft’s loose interpretation of the Bill of Rights. Ashcroft wields a trusty blackjack in Alexakis’s interpretation of our Attorney General, ready to defend the American way of life at all costs. Perhaps the reason why such a potentially controversial song can be openly displayed at the beginning of the album is due to the obscure nature of the lyrics. Without reading the liner notes, it’s hard to tell that this is an antiestablishment song. Instead, it comes off as an exposition on the irony of modern life, which it sort of is too.
The album ends with “The New York Times”, a poignant selection that will tug on your heartstrings. Whether this was written for a friend who died in the September 11th tragedy, or the lyrics reflect a general melancholy based on the running obituaries run in the New York Times for the victims from the World Trade Center, it takes Slow Motion Daydream out on a powerful note (no pun intended). The song uses more complex arrangements that compliment Everclear’s sound, and represents hope for a possible future direction for a band that has so much to say, but is still stuck on the first sentence.