Everclear – Songs From an American Movie Vol. One: Learning How to Smile

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 3)

God help me, I sincerely believed this band had staying power. I thought Art Alexakis was a talented songwriter, hard worker, and savvy marketer, and that the dynamic with Greg Eklund and Craig Montoya would fuel a long career marked by good-to-great releases. I was wrong. Not necessarily about Alexakis, who is talented and driven, but he probably miscalculated in ways that he could not recover from, and the band fell apart once the rhythm section left. Songs From an American Movie  Vol. One: Learning How to Smile sold well – it went platinum – but the companion follow-up was unwisely released very quickly after and pretty much died on arrival. That said, it was a sort of grating hard rock album that probably was too much of a left turn after the progression from Afterglow to Vol. One. After the following album stiffed, Montoya and Eklund departed – the personal fallout from the Afterglow tour likely never having been addressed, much less repaired – and Everclear has limped along with hired guns ever since, mostly haunting the ‘90s revival circuit.

What I Think of This Album

This album really should not work at all. First, it arrived as the core of the trio was beginning to crack, highlighted by a disastrous tour of Australia that saw Art Alexakis physically attack Craig Montoya on stage and resulted in Montoya leaving the band for a spell. Second, there is the ill-advised and even worse sounding cover of “Brown Eyed Girl.” Third, the decision to base “A.M. Radio” on “Mr. Big Stuff,” the 1971 hit for Jean Knight on the Stax label, further betrays a troubling lack of historical perspective. Fourth, and most critically, this concept album – the first salvo of a two album effort – shows that Alexakis decided he wanted to be an artist instead of a rock star, and the problem with that decision is that it meant that he failed to grasp that he was already an artist. There was no need go to full Queensrÿche.  

But here I am, enjoying the shit out of Songs From an American Movie Vol. One: Learning How to Smile, like some idiot. For all my criticism and worry, the goddamn thing is a success. Tuneful and warm and the poppiest thing the band had created by miles, it somehow manages to avoid the pitfalls of pretension and the sins of sappiness. 

Filled with samples, loops, keyboards, banjo, ukelele, mandolin, brass, and strings, this album puts it all out there with Alexakis’s trademark confidence. That it is supposed to mostly document the early, sunny days of a new relationship helps, as there is a large vein of positivity running through the record that you can’t help but buy into. And naturally, Alexakis excels on the rare tunes that revolve around negative emotions, even when he steps into the shoes of his own child witnessing parental conflict (“Wonderful”) or half-embracing a mature perspective on “Now That It’s Over.”

Drummer Greg Eklund takes the mike on “The Honeymoon Song.” Petra Haden of that dog. sings on “Annabella’s Song.” The band thanks Cheap Trick, Soul Coughing, and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones in the liner notes.

The Best Thing About This Album

The audacity that it took to pull this off.

Release Date

July, 2000

The Cover Art

The framing evokes the cinematic title, but the subject matter is silly, at best.

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