During the extended post-Nevermind bender that befogged the music business for a good portion of the early ’90s — to the benefit of travel agents across the Pacific Northwest — nary a major label could fight the temptation to procure (or invent) its own angst-ridden (but user-friendly), noisy (but pop-savvy) post-grunge gaggle. At first glance, Everclear would seem to have all the markings of the Nirvana-be: singer/guitarist Art Alexakis (formerly of San Francisco’s Colorfinger) wraps his frayed vocal cords around tales of self-doubt and self-hatred, straying only rarely from the tense-verse/cathartic-chorus pattern that Kurt Cobain had such a masterful way with, but the band proves more authentic than most.
While World of Noise (a basement recording the Portland, Oregon, trio initially released on the city’s leading indie) is mostly unremarkable, Alexakis does invest some of his lyrics (especially the seething “Pennsylvania Is…”) with the sort of white-trash sincerity that marked the Replacements’ more sober moments. The Fire Maple Song EP uses two versions of the gentle title track to bookend four non-LP songs (highlighted by the surf-punk “Pacific Wonderland”) that benefit from the fluid playing of new drummer Greg Eklund.
Sparkle and Fade (recorded at Butch Vig’s Smart Studios, but not with the famed producer at the controls) is an altogether more mature, more distinctive effort on which Alexakis is encouragingly disposed to flex a pop sensibility he previously held in abeyance. His subjects still get the short end of the stick — be it the dying addict of “Heroin Girl” or the tormented interracial lovers of “Heartspark Dollarsign” — but the sheer radiance of songs like “Santa Monica” (which demands repeated listens) adds to the luster of this unexpected gem.