21 November 2000
Nineteen years ago today, Everclear released the ostensible sequel to their very successful Songs From An American Movie Vol. 1: Learning How To Smile, albeit to considerably less success. I don’t know the prior album well enough to compare the two side-by-side, but I have a hard time reconciling that lack of commercial impact with the tight, hard-rock pop songs that populate this disc. In 2000 this was the sound that pervaded the airwaves and this record should have been a smash. Maybe it’s because this one came five months after the July 2000 release of its predecessor – apparently, there can be too much of a good thing.
I wrote about this album in brief back in Hello, My Treacherous Friends Vol. 12 and said, not meaning to sound dismissive, “They remind me of bands like Blink-182, sort of a frat party mentality…” to which a friend responded, “I would put them a cut or two above frat rock. They are legitimate songwriters.” So when I saw it come up on its 19th anniversary I decided to revisit the disc and see if my buddy had a point. In the end, it’s not a clear cut yes or no answer.
The sound of the songs – and I can’t speak for Everclear’s catalog as a whole, just this particular title – would definitely slot in very comfortably next to goofy fun-time bands like Lit and the aforementioned Blink-182, bands that have become, for me, sort of a shorthand for that major-key, pop-leaning, harder rock of the late ‘90s, early ‘00s. Though I generally eschew micro-categories for musical genres, “post-grunge” is as good a descriptor as any, incorporating the harder guitar sounds of the grunge movement while moving out of the slogging self-pity, and self-hatred and into more upbeat, positive, cheerful sounding music. To that end, I stand by my prior statements about this LP.
That said, I have to concede my friend’s point that “they are legitimate songwriters.” The first time I heard this (and did that earlier write-up), I’d paid more attention to the overall sound of the record. So this time I’m listening much more closely. While avoiding outright introspection, frontman Art Alexakis shows a fair degree of self-awareness in his lyrics, loosely centered around his second divorce. And aware of that context, some songs are remarkably impactful.
Opener “When It All Goes Wrong Again,” sounds like a remarkably confident statement about learning from one’s own mistakes, with it’s repeated assertion that “I’ll be sitting on top / When it all goes wrong again…” But the near-mantra repetition of the phrase in the second half of the song brings with it feelings of desperation and self-doubt. Later, “The Good Witch Of The North” comes off as a love letter to his ex-wife: “There has never been a time when I didn’t want to be your boyfriend… I know I’m going to marry you someday…” It is heartbreaking in its earnestness, revisionist history, and, of course, the knowledge that somewhere along the line all that sentiment turned sour.
I genuinely appreciate that this album can be listened to on either level. I liked it a lot when I first heard it, even if I’d glossed over it’s finer points and enjoyed it just for the general feel and mood of the music. Then, today, digging deeper and getting a real feel for what the songs are about, I find much more depth and substance than I’d have guessed existed here.
Happy 19th anniversary, …American Movie Vol. 2… It has been a pleasure revisiting this disc, especially having discovered it only recently. If I hadn’t already liked what I know of this band’s output, doing a deep dive on this record today would have made me a fan and kept me on the lookout for their other albums when I’m out and about.
Until the next time, keep those discs spinning.