Many alternative 1990’s bands have come and gone over the years. Most of them have either broken up or faded into obscurity, while only a handful have managed to keep their careers alive beyond the turn of the century. However, there is actually a small brotherhood of musicians still waving the flag for the post-grunge generation, touring annually under the west-coast sun with nostalgia as their weapon of choice. The event is called “Summerland”, and the bill includes popular acts such as Gin Blossoms, Sugar Ray, Smash Mouth and Marcy Playground. The pack is led by Art Alexakis, the iconic frontman of the multi-platinum rock band Everclear, famous for hit singles such as “Wonderful”, “Father of Mine” and “Santa Monica”. The Oregon-based veteran rockers are particularly known for their raw and unapologetically honest lyrics – a trademark that was clearly reflected in the grunge-inspired, guitar-heavy sound of the group’s early years. But as they rose to popularity and became a more mainstream brand, so did their music. The emotional core of the songwriting stayed the same, but the instrumentation evolved considerable from gritty, unfiltered anger to lighthearted radio-tunes about being everything to everyone. Now that the 20th anniversary of the band’s breakthrough record “Sparkle & Fade” is right around the corner, Alexakis has chosen to return to his dark roots with the appropriately titled “Black Is The New Black”.
The way I see it, there are two sides to Everclear; the catchy and upbeat beach rock orchestra, and the somber and introverted misfits. The former has already been perfected with 2012’s “Invisible Stars”, so if you’re looking for breezy music to carry you through the hot summer days, that would be the perfect place to start. On the other hand, if you’ve always wanted the band to harken back to the aggressively distorted sound of its early releases, this new disc is pretty much everything you could ask for. In fact, this album is so thick and heavy in its instrumentation, that it makes the group’s debut effort “World of Noise” seem like the poppier half of a Nickelback record. The riffs are explosive, the drumming is insane, and Art Alexakis’ vocals have never sounded better. The crisp yet tender sensibility of his voice is perfectly tailored for the pitch-black lyricism, and with any less of a singer the material would have fallen to the ground. Not that Art is the greatest or most charismatic frontman ever. But one thing you can’t take away from him is his harrowing ability to write and verbally express his feelings in such a way that it really connects with you, even if you can’t necessarily relate to everything he’s been through. His past work has always been very autobiographical of nature, and so is the case with “Black Is The New Black”, which dives deep into themes such as addiction, sexual abuse and failed relationships. It’s brutal and sometimes hard to hear about, but you just can’t help but keep listening.
There really is something for all hardcore Everclear fans to relish here, whether it be the straight-up rock n’ roll feel of tracks like “Sugar Noise” and “American Monster”, or the post-grunge-flavoured sonics found on “Anything Is Better Than This” and “Pretty Bomb”. However, you will also discover that some of the cuts are quite different from anything else in the band’s discography. Just listen to “Safe” – a nearly 6 minute long rock-epic soaked in delicate guitar reverbs, clever instrumental interplays, and Nirvana-esque quiet-loud-dynamics. Or what about the fast-paced “This Is Your Death Song”, which almost ventures into punk territory with its trashy, off-kilter rhythm pattern. Unless you are completely repelled by early 1990’s alternative rock, I see no reason for you not to fall head over heels for this in-your-face, back-to-basics roller coaster. It certainly isn’t groundbreaking, not even for the band. But it does what it does so well, and with such ferocious energy and emotion, that even familiar chord progressions somehow get new life. The casual listener will appreciate its throwback sound, while fans will embrace the modernised upgrade of the classic Everclear style. For me, personally, I think this is their most fulfilling collection of tunes to date.
Van Gogh Sun.
Simple and Plain.