If you wanted to get analytical about it, you could conclude that the rise of angry, adolescent-oriented hard rock over the last half-decade has something to do with the resentment Gen Y kids have for their boomer parents. The higher divorce rates and increase in latch-key childhoods over the last 20 years have changed the tone of teen anger: In the heavy-metal Eighties parents were just accused of spoiling a good time, of taking away your best porno mag, but kids who respond emotionally to Marilyn Manson and Eminem are coming from a deeper source of emptiness. That may be a conclusion that cultural gatekeepers like Bill Bennett and Lynne Cheney share about music they no doubt hate, but its also as undeniable as connecting the dots between economic good times, a second baby boom, and consumer-friendly mall-pop.
Crumbling families as a subject for art, much like the life experience itself, is commonplace these days. But good rock-and-roll that deals with it directly is rare, and what makes Everclears Art Alexakis so compelling right now is his ability to articulate that particular strain of anguish. As someone who went through it as a kid and has a daughter hes putting through it right now, Alexakis is able to convey the pain of broken-home childhoods from two angles. He takes the familial dysfunction that young hard-rock bands like Korn and Papa Roach traffic in and makes something of it -- with insight and honesty but without whiny solipsism or a loss of good humor.
Alexakis journey from late-grunge fluke to the poet laureate of divorced-dad rock has not been a predictable one. Everclear arrived in 1993 with the forgettable grunge of the aptly titled World of Noise
then made a commercial dent with the 1995 follow-up Sparkle and Fade
. That record, which gave the band its first hit with Santa Monica, crystallized their muscular grunge into a more identifiable sound and reflected a more discernible personality at the musics core. But the band finally started to come into its own with 1997s So Much for the Afterglow
. The title/lead song was a new peak for the band, the Beach Boys harmonies of the intro running into Who/Nirvana power chords and launching an ambitious song that said more about the surprising growth of the bands music than any critic could. This is a song about the everyday occurrences that make me feel like letting go, Alexakis asserted, and so it was. The album also included the hit single Father of Mine, a strong commentary on Alexakis own single-parent childhood and the first time he hit his great subject head-on.
After a three-year hiatus, Everclear released two albums in 2000, the dubiously connected Songs From an American Movie Vol. One: Learning How to Smile and Songs From an American Movie Vol. Two: Good Time For a Bad Attitude
. The conceptual framework of this prestige move is ambiguous; I still havent figured out what that title means; and the hard-rockin Vol. Two
is the bands worst record since their debut. But Vol. One
is a shock.
On Learning How to Smile
, Alexakis and company finally find their true voices as a great classic-rock band, referencing Jimmy Page and Brown-Eyed Girl, John Prine and the Otis Redding. In the most underappreciated pop coup of the year, the band came out of the guitar maelstrom of their previous work with a career album more likely to please fans of Tom Petty and Aerosmith than fans of Nirvana and Sonic Youth. This is their cornball pop move -- sampling Public Enemy and Mr. Big Stuff, bringing in horns and background vocals and strings -- and its the one that I adore.
But its also Alexakis D-I-V-O-R-C-E album, with an overture that contains the following central image: The only thing that ever made sense in my life/is the sound of my little girl laughing/through the window of a summer night/I sit alone in the backyard/wishing I could be inside. If youre wondering why he has to stay outside and only hear her through the window, the rest of the album provides enough context to fill in the gaps -- hes simply there to deliver the child-support check.
Alexakis only comments on his daughter directly at the beginning and end of the album, but she informs all of the relationship songs in the middle of the record, a group of courtship-and-marriage memories that glow with the knowledge of whats been lost and the damage thats been wrought. The songs also charm with inspired details of the low-rent dating life that Everclears younger and more vague modern-rock competitors cant touch -- such as the plastic welfare-office chair that Alexakis first spies his future bride in and this magic moment from Here We Go Again: There aint no place Id rather be/than watching dirty movies/in that happy room with you/sleeping on a mattress/in the corner/eating Chinese food.
Everclear isnt the worlds greatest rock-and-roll band -- far from it. But on Friday night at The Pyramid, stuck between the pre-fab modern rock of Lifehouse and the bloated bellowing of Rob Thomas and Matchbox Twenty, they might sound like it.