Everclear's Art Alexakis might have stretched himself way too thin by dividing his concept album into two different records, but his songwriting gifts remain as sharp as ever. Combining the highlights from both volumes of An American Movie would have produced a single Everclear disc every bit as great as So Much for the Afterglow, the surprisingly long-running 1997 smash that established Alexakis as one of the only rock stars around with anything to say about real life, in tunes such as "I Will Buy You a New Life," "Father of Mine" and "Sunflowers." Vol. 1 was too light and whimsical to have much staying power, but the negativity on Vol. 2 makes it a far superior record, because bad moods are something this guy understands. His great subject is the family: It's scary being a husband, it's even scarier being a father, and as Michael Corleone said to Fredo, it's not easy being a son. "When It All Goes Wrong Again," "Slide" and "Misery Whip" are the standouts here, venting everyday domestic frustrations with enough melodic and lyrical grace to turn these frustrations into good, painful jokes.
Despite overly mushy production (easy on those phase-shifters, dude), the guitars burn in honest confusion, especially on the dazed love ballad "The Good Witch of the North." It's funny to hear Everclear try out an art-grunge concept album two years after Hole, Marilyn Manson and Smashing Pumpkins proved that nobody cares about art-grunge concept albums. But let's hope Alexakis has gotten the big-statement bug out of his system, because when he sticks to his small-scale populist storytelling, he's still a master. (RS 856/857)