Songs From An American Movie Volume One: Learning How to Smile
Well, at least maybe there are a couple of songs on this record that will finally dislodge “Santa Monica” from radio station playlists. Ever since that little naggingly catchy post-grunge ditty from the band’s 1995 record Sparkle & Fade came out, it has been a ubiquitous presence on modern rock station airwaves. Even after singer Art Alexakis and company followed it up with the troubled childhood tales of the poppier-leaning So Much for the Afterglow in 1997, the song has refused to go away.
On this record, the band takes the next step in their pop evolution, and Alexakis sounds like a much happier guy. On the opening short acoustic number “Song From An American Movie Part One,” he sings “Just the sound of my little girl laughing makes me happy just to be alive.” “AM Radio” is an ode to childhood pleasures. It’s unabashed pop with a full arrangement and big harmonies. “I dreamed that Jimmy Page would come to Santa Monica and teach me to play,” Alexakis sings. The same sense of nostalgia informs their souped-up cover of Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl.” Everclear manages to breathe some new life into that overplayed but still great, hoary chestnut but couldn’t they have come up with a less familiar selection from Morrison’s catalogue to reconstruct? Maybe they’re trying to get more gigs playing wedding receptions.
Speaking of weddings, “The Honeymoon Song” is all close harmonies and Hawaiian-ized Beatle-isms. “Now That It’s Over” becomes the umpteen millionth song to sample Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks.” On “Thrift Store Chair,” Alexakis sings about putting a John Prine record on and slowing down for awhile. But the highlight of the record may be the instant hit “Wonderful,” another nice dose of sentimentality. “I want the things that I had before/Like a Star Wars poster on my bedroom door,” he sings. The CD concludes with the string section-laden “Annabella’s Song.”
Alexakis has promised the next Everclear record will be more of a rock record but after this Volume One, that may seem like going backwards. This is well-produced big music celebrating life’s small pleasures.
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