Reviewing an Everclear album is a volatile thing, in a way, because Art Alexakis has such a bone to pick with the world. Black is the New Black opens, after a bevy of decapitating guitar riffs sounding, not oddly, but unexpectedly, sort of like 311 covering early era Collective Soul, with the lines “I met a girl who was fallin’ down / In a fu**ed up part of a fu**ed up town.” It’s the same thing he’s been telling us all along, his life steeped in heroin lore, in heroin usage, in heroin deaths, in heroin reality, him making a point to tell us all about it, because… he’s got a bone to pick with the world. It’s his business. It’s our business. Life is a continual marrying of the self with the world, before death.
Everclear never sound INFLUENCED by anyone. They have a way of just standing on their own, and oftentimes their lyrics are what I like about them, my favorites being pretty much all of “Everything to Everyone,” not to mention the gutty west coast ride through a tumultuous childhood of “Why I Don’t Believe in God.”
I’m going to backtrack here a bit. Here are some of my favorite contemporary rock acts, in no particular order (and I don’t discern between “punk” and “metal,” I think to a certain extent in order to be good, like Queens of the Stone Age, you have to espouse each equally): The Hives, The Jim Jones Revue, Refused, Iceage, Plague Vendor, Ceremony. It’s obviously apparent, at this point, that rock and roll isn’t going to save the world, but it does still have its place, like key lime pie, or a ceiling fan.
And get this, Everclear’s last album, Invisible Stars, even had a place too, light, catchy and infectious, much like the similar 2012 comebacks of Eve 6 and Jimmy Eat World. Why did Everclear decide to turn up the throttle and put out some balls-to-the-wall rock for Black is the New Black? Just the changing of the tides, I guess. But each method they’ve employed on their recent work shreds with pretty equal righteousness.
What stands out about “The Man Who Broke His Own Heart,” track 02, is that the influence is, simply, themselves, same as on “Sugar Noise,” the final track on So Much for the Afterglow “Like a California King.” Rarely elsewhere have they ever employed that metal muting, least of all on their daisy-picking followup to that album.
Again, volatility, city. Like I’m afraid to even try to discern whether Alexakis is sincere here, because, damn, I’m just scared. First of all, there’s a wall of noise bludgeoning my ear drums, as if created by an emotionally scourged young boy just got privilege of some mad scientist’s lab, or all the Marshall stacks in North Korea. Sonically, this could backdrop midday at a record store, sure, and I sure as hell ain’t BORED, but then, I am a pretty big Everclear fan: NOT World of Noise, YES Sparkle and Fade, YES So Much for the Afterglow, YES Invisible Stars… that’s all their albums, right?
Hey, waddya know, the very next song goes “You better believe there’s a monster in me.” See, what’d I tell ya! I am SCARY good (or good-with-scary). “American Monster” is one of those songs I’d hate, for its excessive simplicity and lack of phrasing or structural unorthodoxies, except for the fact that like, it keeps punching me in the face with indefatigable raw rock power the likes of which we’ve scarcely seen on this fertile land on which we dwell. The guitar interplay emerges here as a nice “wrinkle” on what the band’s done up to this point, between Art Alexakis and new guitarist Davey French — the rhythm parts push the pace and the timbre, and the lead part sort of just dawdles above the sound scape, emitting faint, hypnotic strains. This album is in no way even close to being a retread.
It should be apparent by this time that this album, in the ears of this angry white guy, has ingratiated itself at least to point of being “quality,” being listenable. So the next step is comparing it the real heavy hitters of our day, and this is where it really doesn’t stand up. The songs are too simple, the influence palette too scant. Almost all of the songs open with the same sort of palm muting. But it does continue to thrive with “Complacent”‘s guitar feedback, and the lurid themes and drastic shifts on these songs, sort of like Nine Inch Nails did on track four of The Downward Spiral but not quite that garish, do speak of the zany, moral-free times in which we live today (girls wearing no clothing, horrible radio music, bombing innocent countries, in case you’re wondering what the heck I’m talking about here).
Then comes the shocker: Alexakis’ lyrical revelation on track five, “You.” I’m not going to disclose in this review what he says, because I don’t think he’d like me to. It’s best indulged over this track, which marches at a pace deliberate relative to its cloister-mates, as if matching the calculated onslaught it takes lash out against what seems like insurmountable evil.
“This is Your Death Song” romps like a thrilling fan’s ride back to “Amphetamine,” with a chorus similar to “Sunflowers.” I don’t care if this is pastiche, man, for an Everclear fan this is a good thing, god dammit. No one does it like them, since The Offspring got “cultural.” For us, that truth is just Alexakis singing, saying anything, sort of reminiscent of how life itself is so full of contradictions, our changing emotions compounding the fact that truth is often inarticulable with words anyway.
As if to say fu**-you to pretentious hipsters (or unpretentious hipsters like me, tee-hee), Alexakis’ spiel in the next song is simply “I am simple and plain / I will never change.” This point already having been obvious to any listener of this album, the real statement made here is how this is finally truly feeling like an ALBUM, the following track “Anything is Better than This” falling effortlessly, almost drunkenly, into the fore as an attachment of “Simple and Plain.” And to their credit, as is proved by “Van Gogh Sun,” Everclear are incapable of playing reggae.
Excuse my colloquialism here: “Pretty Bomb”… is… FU**ING… AWESOME. It’s like the great, long lost Everclear track, rocking out methodically and rhythmically against “stupid people tryin’ to kill your smile,” and it’s every bit the beast the band has ever been, which is saying a lot.
I count three guitars, including one treated by a liquefying pedal, and I believe a dulcimer, on top of hints of drum, in the first minute of closeur ballad “Safe,” which avoids sappiness in the waxing moments by sufficiently employing minor key. Again, with this track, opinion of the music seems just obfuscated by the very emotional stature of Alexakis as he unleashes on our ear drums. And as he keeps half-consciously muttering “Safe / Safe / Safe” toward the end of this track, this music has become your reality, more cosmic template than measurable nativity scene.