Most performers feel compelled at one time or another to make their fat-and-happy record, and it isn't always a bad thing (Exhibit A: Van Morrison's Tupelo Honey). From the sound and the subject matter of Songs From an American Movie, Vol. One: Learning How to Smile, it seems as if Everclear mastermind Art Alexakis is at least trying to be happy, if not fat. Even the songs about troubled love affairs have an aura of hope about them. The problem is that there's a veneer of irony here that Alexakis just doesn't have the guts to strip away. You can partly understand why: When you hear a line like "The sound of my little girl laughing makes me happy just to be alive" sung with complete conviction, your first impulse is to giggle. But there's a smug humility in Everclear's massive, lumbering cover of Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl." They impose a sluggish majesty on the song, as if making it bigger could somehow make it better. Elsewhere, the band throws in smirky sound effects and samples.
Songs From an American Movie sounds orchestral and homespun at once: Lustrous, fancy strings on one song give way to a slap-happy ukulele on the next. Yet it's too much of both and not enough of either. And even when he's trying to be humble, Alexakis too often comes off as a windbag. By the time, late in the record, that he remarks wistfully but purposefully, "I wish I could sing like Otis Redding/I wish I could play this guitar in tune," it really is eye-rolling time. If wishes were horses, we'd all sound like Otis Redding. And Everclear wouldn't even attempt to cover "Brown Eyed Girl." (RS 844/845)
(Posted: Jul 6, 2000)