What It Sounds Like: I’m sure you already know Everclear. If so, you know what you’re getting into here. If somehow you were living under a rock from the mid 1990s to early 2000s, what we have here is standard alternative rock/pop rare. Catchy hooks. Something to catch your ear. Introspective story lyrics about growing up poor and the random girls/drugs/marriages that have come along with the ages.
First off, next to Third Eye Blind, Everclear is probably my second favorite radio-rock band of the 1990s. Art Alexakis is a superior lyricist, as ninety-nine percent of his material is derived from his far-from-perfect upbringing and past experiences with drugs, various family disasters, and the overall push to get yourself out of the hole you’ve dug yourself into, without ever feeling sorry for himself or like the world owes him something. We don’t have stereotypical love or relationships songs, or ones that celebrate wealth or “the good life” as many bands do. Past hits like Wonderful and I Will Buy You A New Life touched on subjects that weren’t common ground for pop/rock radio, and they pushed Everclear to a level of stardom that was absolutely earned, and not simply handed to them on a silver platter.
Originating as a three-piece, founding members Craig Montoya and Greg Eklund left the band in 2003, which should have been the end of this band’s fantastic run. However, Art pressed on, reforming the band into a five (and sometimes six) piece, and created the better than expected Welcome To The Drama Club in 2006. It seemed like a one-off; one last Everclear record before putting it all to bed. Who would have thought that 2012 would roll around to give us one (last?) record, Invisible Stars. I was really excited! Art can’t be coming back after seven years to try to capitalize on the Everclear brand – there was no real demand for it!
Sadly, Invisible Stars didn’t live up to any of my expectations, and while it’s certainly not a bad record, it’s far from ranking up there with the likes of So Much For The Afterglow or Songs From An American Move: Volumes 1 & 2. I’d even go out on a limb and say that this isn’t even as good as their overlooked “it starts to sound the same” grungy 1993 debut, World Of Noise.
These songs simply lack the energy, and even hooks, that most of their previous material excelled in. Take for example Santa Ana Wind. Tell me those strings in the background of the chorus arn’t trying to channel 2000’s single Wonderful. Even the lyrics are simply stale, overused and forced:
Living in L.A. makes me think of you
I think about the good times doing
All the bad things that we used to do
We come from a sun
We’re lost out in the cold
We fight for the light
It’s the only way we know
I wanna find a better sun
I wanna find a better shine
I wanna find a better world
What happened to the introspection that we used to have? What’s up with these tried-and-(not)-true vague illustrations?
Lead single Be Careful What You Ask For is certainly catchy – there’s no way around it. But it’s calculated. Listen to those guitars. Listen to those keyboards. Everything is it it’s place – ready to be slapped back in line if it even inches a centimeter outside its comfort zone. Wishing is simply an on-my-knees cry to keep a woman from walking out the door. In typical Everclear fashion, we don’t get the true meaning until end of the song. Please don’t be cruel / Please don’t do to me / The horrible things that I did to you Art pleads in the final line. He’s a sucker for a toxic relationship, one where both parties are probably just too selfish to be able to really give the other person the love that they desire. He confirms all of my suspicions in I Am Better Without You:
Sometimes I need your sex
Like a junkie needs a hard drug
We are poison to each other
We are like opposites attract on crack
Sometimes you hit me in my sleep
We are poison to each other
We will never be friends
We are that movie that never ends
You call my house
Wasted late at night
You wanna come over and get in my bed
Maybe you just wanna fight
Please / please / please baby
Leave me alone
I know you blame me
For a not-so-happy home
I cheated on you
You cheated on me
We will never be happy
Until we see each other toothless
Crazy and living on the streets
Like I said….addicted to toxicity.
Part of me wants to label this record a guilty pleasure, because they’ve done it better in the past. Art’s still pulling the same tricks, singing about the past and the fall-outs from early life. Justine was the prom queen / Back in 1995 / Pumpkin’s super pretty / Like a goddess on the outside / She was sweet and funny / Popular and cool / Gotta be a drag when you peak in high school Art sings in Falling In A Good Way. What else happened to poor old Justine? She ended up posing for Playboy, and now she works as Starbucks of course! I still enjoy the storylines – there arn’t a ton of bands who weave the stories like Everclear did (and kinda still do). But you can’t helping feeling like they’re relying on that same old formula to try to appeal to your heartstrings, but the passion is simply fading out…
Near the end of the record, we find a hidden gem titled Jackie Robinson. It’s not even overly catchy, but it’s got some storybook lyrics that seem almost inspired about racism and pushing forward, and not contrived and forced like some of the other issues faced on this record. Nobody can be facing the exact same issues at 29 when they’re 49. Things change – life gets better. Ups and downs. But it still changes.
All this to say…
This isn’t a bad record.
It’s not a great record either.
If I heard it by itself without the rest of Everclear’s back catalog, I would probably enjoy it more, but knowing the greatness that came before this, it only pales in comparison. It’s worth some spins, but you can’t top the 90s.
5.5 / 10
If you had to listen to two tracks: Be Careful What You Ask For / I Am Better Without You