Songs From An American Movie Vol. One: Learning How To Smile


Capitol Records, 2000

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Sometimes, it feels like Art Alexakis and his bandmates in Everclear aren't satisfied with being one of the leading alternative rock bands out there today. Sometimes it feels like there's a bit of musical wanderlust in their bones, pushing them towards styles they might not have considered before.

Their first release of 2000, Songs From An American Movie Vol. One: Learning How To Smile (hereafter Learning How To Smile), builds on the alternative base that Alexakis, bassist Craig Montoya and drummer Greg Eklund have built, but they also branch off and make some rather surprising turns. Sometimes, these work well; other times, the end result leaves the listener with the feeling that Everclear is just trying too hard.

Admittedly, I've not been the biggest Everclear fan in the world; prior to my friend at Capitol sending me this disc to review, I owned nothing by the band. (Memo to Robyn: Thanks for your patience... I'm ready to tackle the new disc now.) So I admit I might be noticing things that longtime fans knew were there all along. I'll take my chances.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Besides, I don't remember the last time I heard Everclear on the radio using samples prior to "A.M. Radio," an interesting ditty about a simpler life, before all of this electronic nonsense took control of us a la Orwell's 1984, when Larry Lujack ruled the airwaves, Led Zeppelin still flew and "high-tech" meant you had an 8-track tape deck. Okay, I'm flashing back here - and I think this was Alexakis's goal.

But the samples aren't just limited to one song; they're also used in "Here We Go Again," an interesting fusion of alternative and a touch of rap. And am I the only one who picked up on the drum intro to "When The Levee Breaks" on "Now That It's Over"?

For the most part, Learning How To Smile seems to be Alexakis and crew taking a look back at their lives, from the joys of youth (their cover of Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl") to the excitement of being a newlywed ("The Honeymoon Song"), even to the realization that the honeymoon is over ("Now That It's Over"). I'm not saying that this disc is absolutely autobiographical, but it often seems that Alexakis is pouring out his heart into these songs.

That emotional purge is clear in Alexakis's love for his daughter, shown on "Song From An American Movie Pt. 1" and "Annabella's Song," two tracks which bookend this CD. It's a moving piece of music, one to make anyone who's a father take a second look at how much or even how little they've been there in their children's lives. One word, two syllables: ka-pow.

Not everything on Learning How To Smile works quite as well; in fact, sometimes the constant musical shifts work against Everclear. Going from an almost hip-hop alternative version of "Brown Eyed Girl" to a classical-alternative piece on "Learning How To Smile" to a Hawaiian-influened number on "The Honeymoon Song" - geez, sometimes it feels like you need a scorecard to keep track of which genre Everclear has crossed into.

Still, Learning How To Smile is an intriguing disc which has rightfully been pleasing fans and winning Everclear new followers. Whether they could follow this up with a strong second volume remains to be seen by this reviewer, but I'm much more open to experiencing Everclear's music thanks to Learning How To Smile.

Rating: B

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© 2000 Christopher Thelen 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.