CD Review of Welcome to the Drama Club by Everclear

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Welcome to the Drama Club
starstarstarno starno star Label: Eleven Seven
Released: 2006
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As a diehard fan of the 'Clear from back in the crashy power-trio days of 1995, I was prepared to hate this record: Art Alexakis, the only remaining original member, seemed to have gotten too big for his britches. He expanded the basic, melodic beauty of his concept into something too large and overproduced. Moreover, I'd gotten tired of the whining lyric, and the whining band members, who couldn't get along enough to keep their good thing going.

A new label and new band members seemed to signal to me a past-its-prime band riding a vapor trail of the "Santa Monica" and "I Will Buy You a New Life," the rough jewels and chart pinnacles of Everclear's popularity. I was ready for this album to stuff more sound effects and overmixed junk into the vacuum left from the departure of bassist Craig Montoya and drummer Greg Eklund, and with a title like Welcome to the Drama Club, lyrics so melodramatic that only 14-year-old girls could tolerate them.

Instead, Alexakis proves on this new record – on a new label, Eleven Seven – that he was indeed the strong musical visionary, the creative backbone of the band with his songwriting and direction of how the final mix should sound. While the new Everclear features a new lead guitarist and a fantastic keyboard player who adds blues-rocking organ and other classic sounds, the sonics on this new album are actually lighter than the last couple Everclear studio albums, the two "American Movie" CDs and Slow Motion Daydream.

Drama Club harks back to Everclear's salad days, before Alexakis's "Brian Wilson" period, as he called it in the Bullz-Eye interview, in which it seemed the band would bolt on any sound effect to a song because it sounded cool that day in the studio. The melodies on this record are strong and straightforward, and the lyrics are more well-focused and universal, as opposed to some sort of glimpse into Art's overwrought rock life. Despite a terrible collapse of his personal life (divorce, bankruptcy, his bandmates leaving him and Capitol Records dropping the band) in the last four or so years, his music's become more focused and listenable than it has since those early days, the crunchy guitars intact along with the candy-hooked refrains dripping with sweet harmony. The fans of his trademark sugary pop will not be disappointed with two classic Alexakis ballads in particular on the new album, "Shine" and "Clean."

But the music isn't like it used to be, exactly. There's much forward progress with the new musicians, particularly guitarist Dave French and piano/organ player Josh Crawley, polished players who know how to blend in and not fight for the spotlight. They add color and style to the sound without being heavy-handed. Art's been longing to grab a touch of the 1970s classic rock he grew up with, you get the sense, with past cuts like "AM Radio" and a cover of Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl." At 44 years old, he's finally achieved it on Drama Club, stepping out of the post-punk, post grunge world that made Everclear a nifty little pop trio.

The new Everclear adds just enough blues and funk (laced with organ and clav at points, "A Taste of Hell," "Shine," and "Portland Rain" groove in a way no other Everclear song has) to the mix to make Alexakis's music more accessible, more mature, and less one-dimensional than it had been before. The new Everclear's not exactly like the old Everclear, but the old Everclear was getting a little tedious in spots, anyway.

~Mojo Flucke, PhD