Here's the drill: 12 songs to summarize an artist's career, in chronological order (of course).
The most bizarre sequence of events in my short life involved awkwardly running into a friend's ex at a coffee shop, a car crashing into an apartment building, and passing 2/3 of Everclear on the street. This all happened within 10 minutes and 2 blocks. True story.
This list ignores the last couple of Everclear albums, partly because the band overhauled their membership and partly because I didn't buy them.
1. Santa Monica (from Sparkle & Fade, 1995)
A memorable and simple guitar figure and the introduction of Art Alexakis' enduring theme: Running away from a bad situation to someplace where things are clearer.
2. Local God (from Romeo + Juliet, 1996)
On the other hand, a celebration of the "stupid happy and numb" life Alexakis often wants to run away from.
3. Everything To Everyone (from So Much For the Afterglow, 1997)
This was the song and album that changed my tune about Everclear. At first I lumped them in with every other post-grunge band that eked out a single hit, but the So Much For the Afterglow album showed a surprising depth. It helped that the lyrics to Everything To Everyone - a screed against someone who ratchets up drama, tells people what they want to hear and plays the victim - seemed to exactly describe a girl I held a frustrating crush on at the time.
4. One Hit Wonder (from So Much For the Afterglow, 1997)
This is another aspect that endeared me to Alexakis, an unpitying self-awareness. And yes, I think he's totally being self-referential when he says, "he knows that if he ever even gets the chance he'll sell his soul to make the monster dance."
5. So Much For The Afterglow (from So Much For the Afterglow, 1997)
The final aspect that won me over was the Beach Boys harmony on the intro to this album opener. Gets me every time. The rest of the song is a handclappy speed racer about a couple on the verge of divorce, or at least marriage counseling.
6. Father of Mine (from So Much For the Afterglow, 1997)
Alexakis mines the same minimal guitar figure that made Santa Monica a hit and scores again! The lyrics are nakedly autobiographical, with the final verses cutting sharply: "Father of mine / Tell me how do you sleep / With the children you abandoned / And the wife I saw you beat." He goes on to admit he'll never be right in the head, but he also vows he's also going to learn from the mistakes of the past.
7. A.M. Radio (from Songs from an American Movie, Vol.1: Learning How To Smile, 2000)
A rock band using a sample? From Mr. Good Stuff? Sure. More autobiography, this one a celebration of childhood and the music that inspired him. But when he says he never liked disco, I think he's lying.
8. Unemployed Boyfriend (from Songs from an American Movie, Vol.1: Learning How To Smile, 2000)
Alexakis breaks out the acoustic and puts the mack down on a hottie at the unemployment office. Strange, but sweet as he promises to treat her like she's perfect, watch chick flicks, never make out with her friends, and always make her come.
9. Wonderful (from Songs from an American Movie, Vol.1: Learning How To Smile, 2000)
This time Alexakis looks through the eyes of a child facing his parents' divorce. Like kids usually do, he cuts through the bullshit: "I don't want to hear you say everything is wonderful now."
10. Learning How To Smile (from Songs from an American Movie, Vol.1: Learning How To Smile, 2000)
On the album, this is the payoff moment, where all the confusion and trouble becomes clarity. It revisits that theme I mentioned earlier, namely getting the hell out of dire conditions. There's also some hard-earned wisdom: "Yes I know there is no finish line / I know this never ends / We are just learning how to fall and get back up again."
11. When It All Goes Wrong Again (from Songs from an American Movie, Vol.2: Good Time For a Bad Attitude, 2000)
This seems to be a pattern: Bad times and choices are followed by clarity and rebirth which are in turn followed by new problems (or old problems in new forms). This rocker makes its point aurally by being grimier and grittier.
12. Songs from an American Move, Pt. 2 (from Songs from an American Movie, Vol.2: Good Time For a Bad Attitude, 2000)
A full-length expansion of a similar song on the previous album, this one shows off a pragmatic optimism, acknowledging that life's peaks and valleys are never going away. Instead, Alexakis tells us we have to find out what makes us "happy just to be alive." For him, it's his daughter's laugh. Surprising and touching without being sickening.