Black Is The New Black


The End Records, 2015

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Slow Motion Daydream was, let's be honest, a pretty miserable record, the swan song for the original Everclear and a poor follow-up to the audacious, ambitious Songs From An American Movie double album. The band then reformed, sort of, and released the keyboard-heavy Invisible Stars to little fanfare, which turned out to be a precursor to 2015's Black Is the New Black.

On the surface, this is a harder, heavier band, one that has shaved off the sunnier edges of its sound that resulted in those classic ‘90s hits. And while this has several songs that sound exactly like past Everclear hits – due to the band's inability to expand its songwriting approach some 20 years on – this quality is only found on a third of the disc. In short, it's full of attitude, noisy guitars, and a partial lack of that indescribable annoying quality that somehow accompanied Everclear everywhere they went back in the day. To me, at least.

Although Alexakis never shied away from his past trauma and the hardships faced by others, the lyrics on Black are particularly dark, touching on the dark secrets of seemingly-perfect suburbia, the monsters within us, drugs and loss of control and not living up to others' expectations. Unlike those ‘90s albums, though, these words are sung with the weight of years lived and experiences had, which lends them credence and gravity. It helps, too, that a strong Guns 'N’ Roses spirit flows through this disc like so much “Night Train,” from the riffing to the lyrical content, although Art never comes close to Axl's yowl or catharsis.

Granted, it's always suspect when a '90s band releases new music around the time of the 20th anniversary of its most popular work, so fans can be forgiven for thinking this is simply an excuse to go on tour and play "Santa Monica" over and over. But this record is easily the best thing Everclear has done since my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 American Movie, even if it gets repetitive toward the end.

This much is evident from the opening "Sugar Noise," which rides the lightning on a Slash-inspired riff with appropriately-inappropriate lyrics of the hedonistic variety (sex and drugs, kids). "The Man Who Broke His Own Heart" is all monster power punk chords, stop-start drums and a "whoa-oh" singalong chorus that backs up Art's cheerful analysis of his own failings. "American Monster" is along the same lines as "Sugar Noise" with vivid details of how suburban life is only calm on the surface: "I am a nice white family of four / You don't wanna know what's behind my door," Art sings with an eerie calm, as if crack-addicted teenage girls, pedophiles, and domestic violence are just part of life.

Where the disc suffers is the songs that rewrite old hits or follow the standard Alexakis template, such as "Complacent" (a forgettable rewrite of "Father Of Mine" that is a paean to old fans who gave up on the band around the same time Al Gore was running for president), "Simple And Plain" and "This Is Your Death Song." And based on "Anything Is Better," Everclear spent some time listening to both Velvet Revolver albums during the hiatus, then swapping the party for the personal ("If I die it will be awesome / Anything is better than this / ... Wasting time, pretty noise / Stupid girls and even stupider boys / Wasting time, standing still ... Strung out, I'm coming down, I'm digging a hole."

The problem is that Alexakis never sounds fully invested in this life the way, say, Rose or Layne Staley did, and since he sings every song the same way, the words tend to just sort of sit there instead of resonate in any fashion. Does he live this, or does he know someone who does, or does he write about fictional characters and then go play golf and vote Republican?

At least "Van Gogh Sun" has some hope for a relationship, while "Pretty Bomb" is amped-up glam punk rock with an uplifting message that the suffering of the losers and outcasts and nerds, regardless of age, will all make sense someday because stupid people don't understand them. "Safe" closes the album; starting as an acoustic ballad and going electric partway through, it's a heartfelt look at the world and gender roles, and even if it drags on a bit long, it's honest and moving in the way Alexakis can be but chooses not to be much of the time.

Look, Everclear has never released a truly great album, front to back, simply because the band has such a limited songwriting attack. When they have something to say musically or lyrically, they are compelling, and those moments on Black Is The New Black outweigh the Everclear-by-numbers moments by enough to make this recommended, and not just because the guitars are cranked up to 11. Old fans and casual fans will get a lot out of it, as will Guns 'N' Roses fans (for real), and it may even bring new fans on board if this stuff makes it to rock radio. I guess that's all you can ask at this point.

Rating: B-

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