Everclear was formed in the early 90s by Art Alexakis in Portland, Oregon. Alexakis had enjoyed minor success in a few underground San Francisco punk and country bands, and after slowing his tempo and adding the rhythm section of Craig Montoya and Greg Eklund found his new band with a record deal. 1995’s Sparkle and Fade peaked with its surprise single “Santa Monica”, an upbeat look at a breakup that contrasted greatly with the downer grunge that played before and after it on the radio. However, subsequent singles “Heartspark Dollarsign” and “You Make Me feel like a Whore” failed to ignite with the public and Everclear faced the risk of becoming just like Taco. And to be fair in hindsight, Sparkle and Fade is a solid listen; it’s trite to say so, but its hit single is legitimately one of the weaker songs on the disc.Then a funny thing happened: the album continued to sell at a relatively slow pace. And continued. And continued.Naturally, Everclear faced a bit of pressure in late 1996 when they entered the studio to record a followup. Record labels have always been willing to drop bands for poor sales with little forethought, and this must have weighed heavily on Alexakis’s mind. With the working title Pure White Evil, the followup was on track for an early 1997 release before Alexakis pulled the plug. He felt that Pure White Evil sounded too similar to Sparkle and Fade, and he wanted some time to write some new songs. The newer tracks had a much greater pop sensibility, and the record took on a much slicker feel. So Much For The Afterglow, as the album was re-christened, was released in late 1997. While critical reception was generally strong, lead single “Everything to Everyone” did not provide the commercial oomph needed to make the album a hit.
Then a funny thing happened: the album continued to sell at a relatively slow pace. And continued. And continued. Additional singles “I Will Buy you a New Life”, “Father of Mine”, and “One Hit Wonder” kept the album on the radio, on MTV, and most importantly to the band, on the charts. When all was said and done, Afterglow sold over two million copies. Not bad for a band who was at risk to be a one hit wonder themselves.Big pop hooks rule the day on Afterglow.As mentioned above, the songs and sound of Afterglow are much slicker than its predecessor. Big pop hooks rule the day, and even the most distorted of the guitars on it have more than their share of polish. While I tend to personally dislike albums that are this clean and precise sounding, for Afterglow it just works. “I Will Buy you a New Life”, for example, could only work within a slick and poppy context. Likewise, “One Hit Wonder” is a precursor to modern pop with its layers and layers of loops and other production niceties. Conversely, noisier songs on the album such as the Grammy-nominated instrumental “El Distorto de Melodica” and the should-have-been-a-single-good “Normal like You” still enjoy stacks of vocal harmonies and crisp, clean drum sounds.
Still, Everclear hadn’t abandoned themselves entirely. “Amphetamine” harkened back to Alexakis’s punk roots, faux closer “Like a California King” was nearly as angry as anything from Sparkle and Fade, and the hidden true closer “Hating You For Christmas” contained the lyrical snark Alexakis explored earlier on “You Make me feel like a Whore.” Many fans of the band at this time lamented this step away from aggression and heavier rock, but the songs on Afterglow took on a new life in Everclear’s legendary live show. The pop gave way to rock in a way that worked perfectly for a live show, and the recordings themselves remained a sublime example of a rock band doing pop at its best.
Many great albums still suffer from a weak track or two, and Afterglow’s weakest moment was also perhaps its most prominent. “Father of Mine” did little to distance Everclear from the stereotype that they consisted of little more than “dun dun dun dun yee-AY-ah” for every song. It also struck me as a cheap cash-in of Alexakis’s complex relationship with his father for the sake of a pop song. Lyrically insipid, it stands in stark contrast to “Why I Don’t Believe in God”, a much more clever song on the record that deals with Alexakis’s relationship with his mother with grace.Everclear has aged better than Taco.Everclear went on to release two followup albums in 2000, Songs from an American Movie Part 1 and 2, that collectively sold about as much as Afterglow. The common viewpoint (one which I share) is that Alexakis spread his songwriting too thin for the project; despite its even more intensely clean production, there was a solid single album between the two. As a result, short of the hit single “Wonderful”, the albums all but stalled in the charts and performed as Alexakis likely feared Afterglow would. Slow Motion Daydream was released in 2003 to almost no fanfare, and the band suffered the simultaneous blow of being dropped from their label and having its rhythm section quit. Alexakis keeps the Everclear name alive, but the rest of the band are all young hired guns. It’s less a “band” and more of a solo project at this juncture, but you’ve got to give Alexakis props for staying active and continuing to work. He faces a lot of adversity, which isn’t right; there was a period when two million people had his back and weren’t making jokes at his expense. Everclear has aged better than Taco (I’m really enjoying the double entendre of that phrase), and not every song consisted of little more than “dun dun dun dun yee-AY-ah.” Many of them, particularly the bulk of So Much For The Afterglow, were quite good.
Everclear is playing at the House of Blues Saturday, June 15 with other underrated 90s icons Filter and Live, and they’re bringing along Sponge for the hell of it.