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Everclear: Songs From An American Movie Vol. One: Learning How To Smile



Album: Songs From An American Movie Vol. One: Learning How To Smile
Label: Capitol

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The success of Nirvana's Nevermind ushered in waves of copycats, but few understood what made the music so compelling in the first place: They imitated Kurt Cobain's slack vocals and big riffs, failing to notice the glimmering pop hooks and emotional rawness that made his best work resonate. The finest commercially inclined post-grunge albums—Foo Fighters' underrated The Colour And The Shape, Everclear's Sparkle And Fade—were packed with polished, carefully conceived radio anthems, each made richer by fearlessly personal lyrics. For Everclear, however, it's become increasingly apparent that singer, songwriter, guitarist, and outspoken ex-junkie Art Alexakis doesn't have much else to say, not to mention a finite number of ways to say it. So Much For The Afterglow was a solid but unexceptional recap of the themes explored by its predecessor (addiction, escape, abandonment), and, in an effort to lighten up his act, Everclear has made Learning How To Smile, a comparatively sunny concept album about, um, learning how to smile. But while Alexakis opens with a song about how "the sound of my little girl laughing makes me happy just to be alive," he can't seem to decide whether to cast his attention toward sunny odes to old-time rock 'n' roll ("A.M. Radio," "Otis Redding") or crushingly familiar plans to "leave this place and run away" ("Learning How To Smile"). Either way, it's no-win: It vacillates between insignificant fluff and confessional songs that have nothing new to confess. Worse, when Alexakis does express joy, he often leans toward smirky irony rather than reaching for something deeper. There's a lot to be said for making a breezy summer pop album, especially when a presumably weightier follow-up is slated to arrive in a few months, but Everclear here acts like pop is perfunctory, that summer fun doesn't have to try much harder than letting the drummer sing ("The Honeymoon Song"), sampling Public Enemy ("Here We Go Again"), or covering Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl." The result sounds like an album full of unlisted bonus tracks, and that's too bad.