CD Review of The Vegas Years by Everclear
Recommended if you like
Pearl Jam, Rev. Horton Heat,
Cheap Trick
Label
Capitol/EMI
Everclear: The Vegas Years

Reviewed by Mojo Flucke, PhD

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E
verclear, it could be said, jumped the shark with "AM Radio," one of their last bona fide hits back in 2001 – kicking off some sort of nostalgia cruise that hasn't yet come in to port, judging from the new all-covers CD The Vegas Years. Granted, this wasn't all new material; some of it was culled from archive tapes, including a fierce little cover of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers' "American Girl" that dates back to 1994 when the band was still inhaling the smoky air of its hometown Portland, OR clubs.

Still, this album isn't a sweet spot for Everclear. Over the years the group has, admittedly, made its living doing interesting covers onstage – sometimes making them the centerpiece of the night's set. In fact, that translates well to tape on The Vegas Years' ripping version of Tommy Tutone's "867-5309 (Jenny)," which will create smoke in your speakers – it's that hot. "Rich Girl" is a peculiar choice, but it fits in the lower-class workingman's struggle Everclear wears on its sleeve, and the original Hall & Oates version was so flat that Everclear's reworking gives it a welcome shot of HGH.

The band carved its niche mashing out distortion-fueled, garage-y cuts, and some of these songs (Thin Lizzy's "The Boys Are Back in Town," for instance) sound on paper like they'd be great ideas. But Everclear was at its tip-top absolute best when they were pissy Nirvana-bes, territory that a reconstituted Everclear (as in, frontman Art Alekakis was the sole holdover from the band's salad days) recaptured at moments with 2006's Welcome to the Drama Club. When the band's playing original material, they have half a chance, because Art's in control of the message and its delivery. Happy-crappy rock anthems – or, in the case of "This Land is Your Land,” rock-ized folk tunes – just don’t suit this band.

Give Art a Yaz tune ("Bad Connection"), or even the Thin Lizzy rave-up, and it's just not really that interesting. Some of the covers are passable – really, who could screw up "Our Lips Are Sealed?" It's a solid, basic rock cut to begin with, and harmonies have been one of Everclear's strong suits. Paul Revere & the Raiders' "Kicks" is obviously a great salute to great 1960s garage rock. Furthermore, while the band did a pretty cool version of Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl" released as a single after "AM Radio" (which borrowed heavily from Jean Knight's "Mr. Big Stuff"). On this album, however, Everclear swapped in a mellow live version of "Brown Eyed Girl" from which all the energy's been drained.

The only possible defense for doing a whole record of covers is that Art owed something to Capitol, or perhaps he wanted back onto a major label and some A&R dude told him this was the only way – making a throwaway along the lines of R.E.M.'s Dead Letter Office. In that case we don't have to take it too seriously. But egads, TV themes like "Land of the Lost" and "Speed Racer?" Cheap Trick's "Southern Girls?" By Everclear? This will tax even the hardiest of the band's fans, and will make new fans likely wonder where the heck these guys are coming from, or worse, where they're going. These songs are the stuff that B-sides, bonus tracks, and free downloads at MySpace are made of; they don't really hang together to make a full album. Here's hoping Art Alexakis & Co. gets back to original stuff sooner than later. There are clearly still some rockin' miles left in their tire tread, but time's a-wasting.

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