Everclear, Sugar Ray, Marcy Playground, Lit, and the Gin Blossoms are on the Summerland Tour together, and a number of bands far removed from their ‘90s success released albums recently. I meant to review them individually, but life got in the way (Blogger Excuse #243)…so, without further ado, here are reviews of Eve 6’s comeback record Speak in Code, Lit’s The View from the Bottom and Everclear’s latest, Invisible Stars.
Eve 6 – Speak in Code
I’ll be honest. I’ve been a fan of Eve 6 ever since hearing Inside Out on the radio and over MTV while I was a fresh-faced eighth-grader. Speak in Code, their first album since 2003’s It’s All in Your Head, is a welcomed return. It’s just nice to hear Max Collins’ voice and clever lyrics, factors that have always been among the band’s strongest suits. While the music on this record is decidedly more pop-oriented than the harder-tinged alternative rock of It’s All in Your Head, there’s no denying the strength of the songwriting.
Opener Curtain is among its highlights, a solid blend of guitar riffs, power-pop melodies and Collins’s hook of So I guess it’s goodbye brother/Goodbye rock ‘n’ roll/Guess it’s goodbye to the only life I know. In many ways, Speak in Code is the sequel to 2000’s Horrorscope in that it also features shimmery production and keyboard flourishes. Its influence is prevalent on some of the songs, including lead single Victoria, Situation Infatuation, B.F.G.F. and Downtown.
For fans of Eve 6’s more old-school sound, Moon should be right up your alley, an emotional almost-ballad set to acoustic guitars and a slow grind that builds up to a resonant climax. The album’s last song, Pick Up the Pieces, was originally a song belonging to The Sugi Tap, the project between Collins and drummer Tony Fagenson during Eve 6’s hiatus. It’s a great way to cap off the album, more emotive lyrics and a hopeful tone ending things on a bright note.
In short, Speak in Code holds up well compared to Eve 6’s first three albums, and hopefully they won’t go on another extended break before getting to work on another.
Everclear – Invisible Stars
Just as I spent a ton of time listening to Eve 6’s first three albums, the same can be said for Everclear. There was a stretch where I considered the Art Alexakis/Craig Montoya/Greg Eklund lineup to be my favorite band, as So Much for the Afterglow got spin after spin in my CD player.
Invisible Stars is the second album since Montoya and Eklund quit, and the first from the latest Everclear lineup, which is the third overall.
Still with me?
Musically, Invisible Stars has as more in common with So Much for the Afterglow than any of Everclear’s last four albums. That is to say, the distorted guitars are back, as showcased in the short opener Tiger in a Burning Tree.
Falling in a Good Way covers one of Art’s favorite topics – unhappy people with unfulfilled lives, working at Starbucks despite peaking in high school. Another short song, it’s accentuated with bursts of synth, while Art croons Life goes south when pretty goes away. It sure does!
The album’s single, Be Careful What You Wish For, is a highlight featuring another familiar theme, unhappy relationships.
Other highlights: Santa Ana Wind (a song about California, obviously), Wishing (desperation and a fractured domestic situation), I Am Better Without You (a defiant ode to an ex), Jackie Robinson (the story of an interracial relationship, much like Sparkle & Fade’s single Heartspark Dollarsign), and Rocket for the Girl.
Sure, Art’s voice has seen better days (he’s 50 now), but Invisible Stars is one of the more complete Everclear records of the past decade or so. This new lineup of accompanying musicians is more than capable, too.
I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this album as much as I have, and you might too if you give it a shot.
Lit – The View from the Bottom
Lit hadn’t released an album in eight years until this new one, and their latest, produced by mastermind Butch Walker, has some surprisingly solid moments. I didn’t really care for much of 2004’s self-titled album, though it had a few good moments.
This new album is the first since original drummer Allen Shellenberger died from brain cancer in 2009. That they continued on in his absence is admirable on its own, but some of these songs are very enjoyable. Opener C’mon has some HUGE, epic guitars and an arena-rock hook, while single You Tonight is pretty ballsy, lyrically (there’s essentially the word ‘fuck’ before the ‘You’ in its title, but vocalist A. Jay Popoff delivers the line in a clever way). Again, chunky riffs and catchy production are the stars here.
Obviously, a lot of these songs involve drinking and its consequences, a longstanding Lit trademark. Popoff even opens Same Shit, Different Drink (yup) with the self-referential line vodka tonic my car is in the front yard/I think I’ve been here before.
The View from the Bottom does have a drawback that takes away from the fun – it’s top-heavy. The first three songs are dirty, sleazy fun, but around the middle of the record things drag a bit. The songs still sound crisp, Butch Walker’s mastery behind the knobs evident on each song, but it isn’t until Partner in Crime that things pick up again. You can’t help but think of Bon Jovi with the way Popoff uses the same vocal thing that JBJ patented with Living on a Prayer, making the song a grimy 1980s hair-metal stomper.
Simply put: Lit’s latest album isn’t perfect, and it isn’t consistently solid, but there’s enough here to justify their persistence. It’s a fun record from a fun band. Give it a shot.
Personally, it seems bizarre to see how we’ve entered an era where these bands can be considered “throwbacks” to a different scene. We’re far removed from the 1990s, but these three bands continue to do their thing – which has to be commended, regardless of whether or not it garners me any “cool points” among the uber-hip online music journalism world.
But so be it – I’m a 1990s kid forever.