For a while, Everclear were one of my favourite bands, having released two of the best alternative rock albums of the mid-to-late 90s. Can Invisible Stars put Art Alexakis back on track after years of line-up changes and cash-in releases?
The last two albums from Everclear have certainly fit that unfavourable description, with In A Different Light merely seeing old favourites redone in slightly different ways, while The Vegas Years was a compilation of covers. It’s six years since the last ‘proper’ album, Welcome To The Drama Club, and it’s safe to say that hopes for a return to form have been diminishing.
Ever since the classic line-up of Alexakis, Craig Montoya and Greg Eklund broke up in 2003, Everclear have been stuck in a cycle of rotating band members and declining quality. The current line-up has been mostly together since 2009 (with an entire line-up between 2003 and 2009 dismissed en masse by Alexakis, though two have returned), so it’s impossible to recognise any of them other than the frontman.
In amongst all this chaos, it’s therefore surprising that Everclear have actually pulled together their best album in a long time. Their heyday, of course, was Sparkle And Fade and So Much For The Afterglow, with the Songs From An American Movie duo offering a lot and delivering slightly less, while Slow Motion Daydream was a disappointing finale for the classic line-up. Invisible Stars is guilty of falling back on past glories too often, but it does so pretty well.
Tiger In A Burning Tree is a decent start, offering trademark quiet-loud guitars and spoken-word verses from Alexakis before a chorus that makes more impact than you’d expect from a song that lasts less than two minutes. Falling In A Good Way is equally short and energetic, though bears a little too much resemblance to Amphetamine from SMFTA, telling a story of a similarly doomed young girl, but less memorably. First single Be Careful What You Ask For is Everclear-by-numbers (Father Of Mine meets Nehalem?), but again, at least it’s pretty good.
The issue of a band’s new songs sounding a bit too much like their old ones is a thorny one. Don’t we want them to sound like they did when we really liked them, instead of changing into something new and scary? Did people complain about new Ramones albums? Still, when songs like Volcano repeat Alexakis’s lyrical formula of ‘damaged couple battle drug problems and the outside world and need to escape’, which has seen him through Summerland and Learning How To Smile in the past, it’s a little bit distracting. It also offers too much chance to compare them, something that rarely works in the favour of the newer songs.
But, when you get past that, songs like Wishing, Jackie Robinson, Rocket For The Girl and Promenade are amongst the best things Alexakis has done in years and even if Everclear are unlikely to appeal beyond their original core fanbase these days (hence the nostalgic Summerland tour with Sugar Ray, Lit, etc), at least this new line-up have delivered an album that holds together well. And there’s no Volvo Driving Soccer Mom. You can call them an Everclear tribute band, but at least they’re worthy of the name again.