Review: Everclear – So Much for the Afterglow
This album originally came out October 7, 1997. In honor of the album turning 20 this year, and our feature on the Best Alternative Rock Songs of 1997 that includes Everclear’s “Everything to Everyone,” we’ve republished it here.
A decade ago, I pushed my toddler son’s stroller through Ann Arbor, Michigan, where marijuana was almost legal and even adults dressed like college students. Suspicious of parental guidance, proto-grunge Kinko’s slackers dished out enough uncomprehending stares to turn me against college-radio smugness forever and recognize the nuclear-familial virtues in the suburban Top 40 I’d long abandoned. A guy my age (mid-30s), Art Alexakis shares a two-story house outside Portland, Oregon, with his wife and preschool-age daughter, and sounds as if a decade ago he should’ve been reciting plain old melodic Tom Petty/John Mellencamp parables. But now it’s the ’90s, so he dresses Lollapaloozoid and addes Nirvana power chords, even though the first and last songs on 1995’s Sparkle and Fade analyzed life in Mellencamp’s “small town.”
Alexakis is a recovering drug addict fronting a trip named after pure grain alcohol, so self-destruction figures prominently in his writing. But on his band’s new album, the chemicals are almost all available by prescription. “Normal Like You” might be rock’s first protest against Prozac, and “Amphetamine” is about a girl who’s “perfect in that fucked-up way that all the magazines seem to want to glorify these days.” Reminds me of Katie Roiphe writing about her sister Emily in Last Night in Paradise: Sex and Morals at the Century’s End– “She had the kind of sexiness that would, years later, be featured in magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar: wan, intense, and sleep deprived.”
Characters in Everclear songs can’t help feeling weird inside, but they’re striving for some semblance of picket-fence normality regardless. Alexakis files reports on suburban marriage, parenthood, adultery, divorce , and how breathing fire doesn’t look good on a résumé so we’d better get ready for the real world. These are oddly grown-up topics for alt-rock, unless you reach back to Human Switchboard and X not hiding their sexual lives 16 years ago. “I Will Buy You a New Life” is the male half of a split-up couple’s phone conversation, keyed around a “big house way up in the west hills”; in a hidden track at the end of the CD, a guy lashes back at his ex’s holiday letter about her excellent job and love life. “I guess the honeymoon is over,” sums up the post-coitally-depressed title track.
So Much for the Afterglow is a clever album title for a potentially doomed follow-up to a surprise hit–“Santa Monica,” the video of which showed a couple fighting. In case you’ve forgotten their moment already, Everclear name another track “One Hit Wonder.” Spewing Billboard jargon in interviews like some despicable industry sleazeball, Alexakis is openly ambitious, all the way down to his straightforward big-black-boots-and-an-old-suitcase, Nashville-huckster sense of wordplay. On Afterglow, the ornate adult-contemporary string-and-tabernacle-choir stylings get too ambitious for their own good, but Everclear mostly maintain their sonic momentum. They’re just dealing more kinds of hooks: rigning Big Country guitars, Appalachian “No Depression” fiddles, scads of Vox organ and “Louie Louie” new wave garage-bounce so Art’s voice can slide down into Elvis Costello nasality at the end of each verse.
Everclear also feature current rock’s most Eagles-soaring sway and uplift this side of Garth Brooks, made explicit by references to “Life in the Fast Lane” and “Victim of Love” in “Everything to Everyone’s” lyrics, and the updated “The Boys of Summer drum machine in “White Men in Black Suits.” This is a far cry from the band’s ’93 indie debut, World of Noise, recorded for $400 and full of Killdozer-via-Tad lumberjack posturing. “Amphetamine” might have been even better if its music didn’t so predictably amphetamize after the first verse. But in general, these guys now seem less and less compelled to prove punk credentials by hiding their melodies under barrages of gunk.
They still sound restless, though, and they’re still obsessed with the hungry, hollow place where good things die and lovers lose the power to make each other laugh. On Sparkle and Fade, the centerpieces “Santa Monica” and “Summerland” deal expressly with escaping to begin a new life in a new place, west of here, beside the ocean if at all possible. Now in “Amphetamine,” Miss Perfect-in-a-Fucked-Up_way comes “out West to find the sun,” fleeing a bad marriage. Next song, a record-store clerk (just like the ones in “Summerland”) moves to San Francisco and meets a girl musician who dances topless for cash at night but wants a “slow fuck in the afternoon.”
Most of all, Afterglow offers butterfly kisses to the generous Sesame Street idea that a family might actually be a unit that helps you through (Alexakis nods to his own daughter on Sunflowers”). A delinquent dad and nervous-brokedown mom get one new song each, and in inevitable “Cat’s in the Cradle” tradition, their son now has his own kid. It gets sappy sometimes, in a poor-orphan-child kinda way. But, determined to be a fatherly conscience to his genre like Coolio is to his, Art Alexakis is just saying that we’ve all gotta face responsibility someday, and it’s not easy. If your mind ain’t prepared, he’ll see you when you get there.