Everclear – Sparkle and Fade

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 1)

I feel like Everclear gets a very bad rap. Of all the bands I like, Everclear is probably the most widely disrespected. Most of the ill will is due to Art Alexakis, who is by many if not all accounts a very difficult human being and whose version of critical events is not always consistent with those of others involved. That may be and it’s shitty, but a significant part of people’s dislike of Alexakis also appears to revolve around some indie-purist distaste for his drive and desire for success. Alexakis survived a difficult early life of poverty, fatherlessness, heroin addiction, the death of a brother due to overdose, and the death of a girlfriend by suicide, only to see his career as a musician stall by the time he moved from California to Portland in the early 1990s. He formed Everclear with bassist Craig Montoya and a drummer, released an EP and then their debut album in 1993. New drummer Craig Eklund came aboard for the recording of Sparkle and Fade, by which time Alexakis’s unparalleled work ethic had landed the band on Capitol.

What I Think of This Album

Dismiss them as grunge carpetbaggers if you want (though you’d be wrong to), but then you also have to agree that there is more to Everclear than your average Sponge or Silverchair. In fact, Art Alexakis is a masterful storyteller who knows exactly how to work pop and Americana into his hard rock framework to come up with some of the most compelling and catchy songs about blue-collar urban despair ever to emanate from a pair of speakers.

I don’t know to what degree these songs are autobiographical or if they’re pure fiction, and I don’t care. It really makes no difference to me. What matters is that Alexakis sells the shit out of the narratives; he fills them with life and makes them true, regardless of whether they are real. Undoubtedly, his own experiences inform his songwriting and his lived pain influences the passion and sincerity of his delivery, but not everyone is mature or talented enough to tap into those feelings with such clarity and purpose. The man may or may not be a dick, but he is definitely an artist.

The heart(spark) of the album is the material that moves away from the noise of the band’s earlier work and figures out how to marry the energy of that time with a more melodic approach. Massive hit “Santa Monica” and other tracks (including personal favorite “Heartspark Dollarsign”) are really modern updates of the sound that X valiantly sought to popularize, and again, Alexakis is no less a raconteur than John Doe and Exene Cervenka. Yes, some of the lyrics may be a bit on the nose and there is little poetry to the lyrics, but this is gritty, realist storytelling of the highest order. Put another way, if Social Distortion is punk and country together, then Everclear is hard rock and country together.

I once read a story that Alexakis was invited to play at his daughter’s preschool or kindergarten and he performed a rewritten version of “You Make Me Feel Like a Whore” that was called “You Make Me Feel Like I’m Four.” That is fantastic.

Everclear thanks like a million people in the liner notes, including Belly, X, Tom Petty, Social Distortion, the Poster Children, Small Factory, and Magnapop.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Heartspark Dollarsign,” motherfucker.

Release Date

May, 1995

The Cover Art

I know that that’s chocolate cake, but my first thought is always always always that it’s poop. And I am not into poop.

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