November 09, 2004

EVERCLEAR -- TEN YEARS GONE: THE BEST OF EVERCLEAR 1994-2004

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Album tracks right at home with chart hits

During the mid-to-late 1990s, Everclear enjoyed an impressive string of radio hits. This new best-of collection is a strong reminder of the grasp that the band had on the FM airwaves during that period.

One of the first things that stand out on this disc is that the songs aren't arranged chronologically. That's not a new best-of collection concept, but it works to the listener's advantage on Ten Years Gone: The Best of Everclear 1994-2004 (Capitol Records). The sequencing doesn't allow a listener to observe a decline as the material changed, and that did happen with the band's output. Also, a song such as "Learning How to Smile" can be given a chance to shine instead of being just another track from a rather mediocre album -- in this case, 2000's Songs From an American Movie Vol. 1.

Another bright point of this collection is the inclusion of "Fire Maple Song," a great post-grunge era tune that shows off singer and principal songwriter Art Alexakis' early gift for personal lyrics and vivid imagery. This attribute makes this track -- taken from Everclear's 1994 debut, World of Noise -- just as relevant as any of the band's chart singles, such as "Father of Mine."

It's probably never been disputed that Alexakis always has been Everclear's focal point, but the rhythm section never received its fair share of attention. Drummer Greg Ecklund and bassist Craig Montoya provided strong backup without upstaging Alexakis. Unfortunately, they have since been dismissed, and other than a few mentions in the liner notes, their contributions are overlooked. But without those two, a song such as "Heroin Girl," a longtime fan favorite, wouldn't have the punch and urgency that it possesses.

One area that Everclear never really excelled in was covers. Its two entries here, Thin Lizzy's "The Boys Are Back in Town" and Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl," make pretty good evidence for a ban on cover songs when it comes to best-of albums. Both are boring and serve as momentum killers on this particular disc.

Even worse is the inclusion of some previously unreleased tracks. There must have been a good reason why "Sex with a Movie Star" and "The New Disease” were never green-lighted for a studio album. "Sex with a Movie Star" in particular is an exercise in cliche and stereotype being overused (sample lyrics: "I know the words don't mean a damn to me / I wanna walk away when everything falls apart"). When a good songwriter such as Alexakis is relegated to recording such drivel, he is no better than the shallow "Hollywood types" he chastises.

Poor filler selections aside, the rest of Ten Years Gone is a great overview of Everclear's offerings. "Santa Monica" was one of the best '90s radio singles, and it still inspires people from all walks of life to play air guitar along to the crunchy power chords. "Wonderful" remains a fine example of how good pop-rock songs can convey pent-up feelings just as well as hard rock and heavy metal do.

This band has a lot to be proud of: a long career, a strong catalog of inspired material and a healthy legacy. Not many of their mid-'90s contemporaries -- Sugar Ray and Smash Mouth, particularly -- come close to Everclear in the respect department.

-- By Mike Madden

Posted by medleyville at November 9, 2004 09:44 PM
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