Album Review

​Everclear - Black Is The New Black

Released April 28, 2015
Dylan Sonderman
​Along with some types of alcohol, many rock singers, even in the most beloved bands, do not age well. Vocal chops fade, lung capacity shrinks, etc. But like the powerful distilled spirit for which the group is named, Everclear largely stays potent with age. Most impressively, Art Alexakis’ voice in 2015 sounds almost exactly the same as it did in the band’s heyday. More than anything else, this makes the group’s newest record, Black Is The New Black, feel more like the Everclear some have come to know and love. Otherwise, the overproduced and heavily studio-processed instrumentals remind me of Nickelback. Not a welcome change of sound. Unfortunately, I think this really holds the album back from the raw and honest charm of the band’s most well-loved material.

And it really is just the sound, for the most part, that drags things down in this way. Alexakis’ lyrics are as blunt and personal as ever, dropped without pretension or figurative language. For me, the lyrical content and vocal delivery were the biggest strengths of Black Is The New Black. At first, I wondered if the founding vocalist/guitarist and only constant member could really be genuine with some of the rock star clichés and rebellious themes, but when I listen back to old Everclear, the same themes really come through. This is who this guy is, and he isn’t ashamed of it. That fact alone adds something real and appealing to this record, even at its least interesting moments.

Sometimes I can’t tell if the songs rock really hard or are trite nearly to the point of being unbearable. The upbeat energy that pretty much never lets up doesn’t help the album feel dynamic, but it does keep it from dragging. More clean sections probably would have varied things up (like the back and forth dynamics of the 1995 hit “Santa Monica”), but, overall, the musicianship is solid enough. Everclear currently consists of Alexakis, lead guitarist Dave French, keyboard player Josh Crawley, Freddy Herrera on bass, and Sean Winchester on the drums.

I suppose it is nice to hear a mainstream rock band opt to pursue a heavier sound in 2015, when everyone seems obsessed with mellow, feel-good tunes with no bite. However, any punch this album might have packed is largely drowned out by the blatant attempts to write “catchy” rock music. I really could have done without the ‘Whooaaaaa- ohhh’ backing vocals, particularly in “The Man Who Broke His Own Heart” and “Simple and Plain”. Those corny sections feel like transparent attempts to make fans sing along. At the other end of the spectrum, there is plenty of wailing lead guitar from French. While not particularly original or exciting, the enjoyable (if generic) solos still tend to break up the otherwise repetitive song structures.

“Complacent” definitely feels like ‘90s Everclear, right out of the gate. 90’s punk throwback “Pretty Bomb” also conjures some of those vibes, but some of the lyrics did leave me scratching my head. The song “You” confuses me. The gritty and frank lyrics talk of sexual abuse and the painful echoes of the events later in life. The song itself sounds like a cheesy Seether ripoff or a blatant attempt at an arena rock song. This contrast doesn’t necessarily work well for me, but I will say, if putting these memories and emotions down is some kind of coping mechanism for Alexakis (as the closing lines “I am twisted, broken, angry, and free” seem to acknowledge), than more power to him.

Bottom line, if you loved Everclear, you will probably enjoy at least some of Black Is The New Black. If you never cared for them before, I feel this record is unlikely to convert you. I wouldn’t say it’s a bad album at all, especially for a late-career release. It definitely has some merits, and is far from unlistenable, but overall, there are many better records out there, including some by this very band.