When a rock band does an album of covers, you’re kind of trained not to expect much. It’s often a sign of writer’s block, or just a more light-hearted ramble through the music that inspired them. Sure, a few folks like Cat Power or Sinatra can do something amazing with covers, but most of the time, not so much.
Everclear’s The Vegas Years is your textbook covers album – amiable and fun, although not quite essential unless you’re already a fan.
Oozing with angst and yearning, Everclear put out two of my favorite albums of the 1990s — 1995’s Sparkle And Fade and 1997’s So Much For The Afterglow. Frontman Art Alexakis mined his checkered past for hook-filled rock tunes full of betrayal, mistakes and ache, and in the process came out with some of the best songs of the post-grunge rock era, like addicts’ anthem “Santa Monica.”
But since then, it’s been a downward slope for the band, as Alexakis’ muse trickled away and every song started to sound like the last. By 2006’s vapid Welcome To The Drama Club, the entire band besides Alexakis had been replaced and the band started to sound like a pale shadow of themselves. The music felt stuck in a lyrical rut, repeating the same themes of alienation and regret without new insight.
Which brings us to The Vegas Years. It kind of feels like a palate cleanser after a fallow period, as Alexakis looks back at the songs that got him going. It’s a nifty, eclectic collection of unexpected tunes — there’s no “Free Bird” here. A variety of acts including Hall & Oates, Thin Lizzy and Yazoo are featured (oddly, none of the punk or post-punk acts I kind of felt inspired Everclear’s glittery, angry sound).
The best songs here are the ones that Alexakis injects with his trademarked passion like a fiery take on Tom Petty’s “American Girl” and a rousing live romp through that one-hit wonder “867-5309 (Jenny)” by Tommy Tutone. A nicely sincere version of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” is folksy fun, while Everclear’s rarely heard sense of humour comes out to play with hilarious covers of TV theme tunes “Land Of The Lost” and “Speed Racer.” A few tunes do sag into a generic alt-rock churn (a dismally bland cover of Neil Young’s “Pocahantas” lacks all sense of the original’s drama).
I’m hoping Alexakis uses the fun he clearly had making this album as a springboard to resurrect his own songwriting mojo. The honest rawness of Everclear’s earlier work still holds up more than a decade later. As for The Vegas Years – hints of the band at their best pop through, even if in the end it’s just kind of marking time.Powered by Sidelines