Concept albums are precarious undertakings. The Beatles didn’t attempt Sgt. Peppers until they had been through a number of changes collectively as well as individually. Even then, the impetus for that seminal album was the effect Pet Sounds had on Paul McCartney. He conceived a response that would be ambiguous where Pet Sounds had been direct; shadow-laden where the Beach Boys had achieved brightness. And Sgt. Peppers as grand as it was, pretended to be neither coherent nor able to resolve anything. It was a statement of the loneliness and emptiness of modern 20th century life in England, a harbinger of the death of the “love generation”.
Thirty-three years later comes the upstart American pop/grunge compendium Everclear. Leader Alex Alexakis has decided the time has come to make a monumental statement, his Magnum Opus. And he decides to do so over two records. Songs From An American Movie-Vol. One is not only ambitious—it quite accidentally is a perfect mirror of aimless American culture at the end of the 20th century. Not that I want to tout this as some artistic epiphany. Everclear have not convinced me of their staying power. I still expect that within another five years they will be a fading curiosity. But herein is precisely why Everclear was the perfect vehicle for doing this job. No venerable, legend status act could have evoked the same sense of void and purposelessness.
In short, American Movie-Vol. One is lyrically one of the most depressing albums I’ve ever heard. Opening with the thought “just the sound of my little girl laughing…makes me happy”, the album scrambles through a littered landscape of failed adult relationships, only to close with “You know I’m never home / I’m always miles and miles away / I feel I’m running out of time to say the things I need to say.” Those lines were addressed to the same little girl who is the subject of the first track. If Alexakis is “learning how to smile” amidst such heart-rending scenes, he epitomizes what has gone wrong so awry with our culture: we grin and bear it, and numb ourselves into mere functionality. Never mind that our relationships and our children are dying—we’ll just strum a little ukulele and banjo, sing some nostalgic blasts from the past, and go on our way to nowhere.
If nothing else, American Movie-Vol. One is an audio-documentary of the decline of America’s heart. We’re rotting from the inside out, and this album, however unintentionally, makes that ironically clear.
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