By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
Cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon. The little kid in "Wonderful" tells his divorced mom: "I don't want to meet your new friend, I don't want to start over again." The adults just tell him that everything is wonderful.
Now imagine him grown into a young man. His father calls from 2000 miles away "to find out how you're doing." The son puts up the usual wall, tells him things "aren't bad." The money will hold for another month. Don't worry. Two job interviews. I don't know why they didn't call back. The place looked schmucky anyway and all the salesmen on the floor had to wear these stupid smocks. Yeah, I go to clubs. Yeah, of course I have two or three drinks. (Thinks to himself, "Why are we talking about this?") The economy's good, I'll be okay, I'll get something, I'm not worried. Gets off the phone. Damn, does Dad think I don't worry enough? I've spent my whole life worryingI'm the King of Worrying. And now I've got to worry about the fact that I make him worry. Christ! I'm not an addict. I don't think I'm an addict. Just 'cause you were an addict doesn't mean that I'm an addict. These conversations are so exhausting.
And on Dad's end: There's something this kid's not telling me. It's a blank. I don't understand. (I know where you go when you wanna fall.) Maybe I'm imagining things. (Your useless friends they tell me everything.) Not everyone ends up living in a cardboard box. Not everyone ends up on drugs. (Your mom she says you're just like me.) Something's going on. Something's wrong. (They say it runs in the family.) I wish I knew. (Don't you wanna be happy?)
Here we go again.
Description and evaluation: I'm disappointed with Songs From an American Movie Vol. One in comparison to 1997's So Much for the Afterglow. Christgau once warned against assigning a follow-up review to someone who loved the previous record. You invite disappointment. Well, too late. Afterglow was Who and Nirvana power chords brought down to routine, but it was a good routine, with unison guitar lines like sword slashes, probably overdone but done on really good hooks and riffs and songs. The new album is looser in the rhythm, has less wall of slash, relatively more lilt and funk, and more variety in the sound (that is, not all LOUD) and in the instrumentation; this is good in principle and even sometimes in fact (my favorite track copies "Mr. Big Stuff" and just does a gentle nostalgia groove on the '70s), but in general the music is too diffuse. Also, I don't understand the title or the cover photo: the band standing American Gothically in front of an old gabled house, guitar-bass-ukulele held vertically like pitchforks. The back photo has the band in riverboat-gambler garb. Neither has anything to do with this album or with many American movies, given that long ago the sticks nixed hicks pix, so flicks these days tend toward fireballs and laser rays and planes that crash and cars that explode. Also, the "American" makes me uneasy, implying that this is one of those things like Bachman-Turner's "We're an American Band" or Bryan Adams's "Born in the U.S.A." that are supposed to be specifically about us. Hey, I like to decide for myself if something's about me, and though obviously I've decided that this album is, any Venezuelan or Eastern European equivalent that's about fear, mental mess-ups, addiction, and divorce would be just as much about me, so I don't think putting "American" in the title makes much of a point. (Which is fine with me.)
American Movielike Afterglowdelivers "the everyday occurrences that make you feel like letting go," though this time Everclear has varied what you feel, so it's not entirely like letting gowhich makes this album more exploratory but less intense. But I assume that anyone interested in these guys' story is going to want this part of the journey. Think of it as a companion to next Pazz & Jop winner Eminem. Em gives you the letting go, the fireworks and the dazzle and the breakdown, while Everclear gives you the mundane details that occur between explosions.