Slow Motion Daydream

Everclear

Capitol Records, 2003

http://www.everclearonline.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/17/2003

If there's one musical stereotype I'd like to see demolished, it's the one that says hard rock has to be dumb. I mean, you got these big sledgehammer chords, see, and these throbbing bass lines and fat-ass drums, so the lyrics had better be either macho chest-thumping or whiny my-girlfriend-dumped-me-and-I-hate-the-world crap… right?

Wrong.

Hard rock is no different than any other genre; the quality of the lyrics is entirely in the artist's hands. In the case of Everclear, that puts them mostly in the hands of a guy -- vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Art Alexakis -- who's got something to say and the brains to say it with substance and craft.

For evidence look no further than this album's heaviest song, the bludgeoning "Blackjack," a brilliant diatribe against Attorney General John Ashcroft's police-state tactics ("Scary John / always knows what's going on / he is everywhere"). As the multi-tracked power chords hammer away, Alexakis offers this dead-on analysis of how we got here: "This is your American dream / everything is simple in the / white and the black / you will never need to see the grey anymore."

Slow Motion Daydream is an album about life in America circa 2003. In its own alternately sardonic and idealistic way, it's as essential a reflection of our nation today as Bruce Springsteen's The Rising. (The fact that Springsteen is one of Alexakis' musical idols should not come as a surprise; there may be zero musical resemblance, but the desire to communicate honestly and powerfully is very much mutual.) While my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 The Rising addressed mythic figures -- heroes and lovers and lifelong comrades -- Alexakis' focus here is more like Springsteen circa Darkness On The Edge Of Town; he's primarily looking at regular people living regular lives and asking themselves how the hell they got there.

The entertaining element of Alexakis' approach is that he does his thing using the dark, twisted, irony-drenched humor that has become an essential part of young America's character. Consider the throbbing, slamming "Volvo Driving Soccer Mom," in which he traces a direct sociological line from slutty teenage girls to "blond-bland-middle-class-Republican-wives." It's an American Beauty-like concept, the implication that conservative middle America today is engaged in the greatest collective bout of denial in recorded history.

Beyond the social psychology of it all, though, Slow Motion Daydream is ultimately an album about yearning, a set of songs in which nearly every narrator "just wants" one thing or another to make either the world or his own life a little more livable. Sometimes, as in "TV Show," it gets so bad that all you want to do is make it all go away, "come home to a life that looks like a TV show" or "start all over again." Other times, as in "Science Fiction," the solution is to remember that "life is always getting better for awhile." Despite these ups and downs, though, Alexakis ultimately reveals himself as neither an optimist or a pessimist, just a realist who's as stressed and disoriented by the contradictions of life in America today as the rest of us.

Musically, this album constantly entertains. Tracks like "Blackjack" and the opening "How To Win Friends And Influence People" burn with energy, the guitars bulked up to lightning-bolt sizzle by the rich, creative production of Alexakis and Lars Fox, who also work in some particularly choice loops and effects. (It's hard not to chuckle, though, when they lift the bass line right out of "Ice Ice Baby" for the latter song!)

Less frenetic tracks reveal the lasting effects of Everclear's experimentation with '70s-style melodic rock in Songs From An American Movie, putting greater emphasis on melody and incorporating strings very effectively on three songs. It doesn't detract from the power and bite of Everclear's music in the least, though; the strings that double the melody on "A Beautiful Life" just make the fat guitar lines resonate that much more.

Last but not least, props once again go out to the all-important Everclear rhythm section of Craig Montoya (bass) and Greg Eklund (drums). There seems to be nothing these guys can't play; whatever the mood or tempo or role they're called on to fill in a given song, they sound great.

With Slow Motion Daydream, Everclear demonstrates once again that you don't have to check your brains at the door to enjoy banging your head a little, and that melody sounds sweet at any volume.

Rating: A-

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© 2003 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Capitol Records, and is used for informational purposes only.