Loud And Everclear

Art Alexakis is getting this rock-star thing all wrong. For starters, he's a morning person. "Ever since my daughter was born"--that was eight years ago--"I just can't sleep past six," says the Everclear front man at 8 a.m. on a recent Los Angeles morning, the barest hint of early-hour rust still clinging to his voice. Alexakis, who is the band's chief spokesman and sole songwriter, has had some ugly moments--cocaine addiction, fights with girlfriends--but all of that was before he became a rock star. His hard-rock trio arrived in 1995 with the power-chord hit song "Santa Monica," then watched their even noisier album "So Much for the Afterglow" sell like Pokemon cards. All along, right up through Everclear's surprisingly light-footed new CD, "Songs From an American Movie, Vol. One: Learning How to Smile," Alexakis has been calm as a pond. There was one hint of turmoil last year, a divorce, but Alexakis claims the split was amicable. "Yeah," the singer admits, "there's a lot of things that aren't very 'rock star' about me."

Like, say, his band's new effort. "Vol. One" is an unexpected butterfly kiss to classic pop: the Jackson 5, Jean Knight, early Van Morrison--the feel-good music that Alexakis, who's 38, loved as a child. Now, as middle age sets in, the singer has decided to cash in his rock-star cachet and give today's 'N Sync set a little schooling. "The VCR, the DVD, there wasn't none of that crap back in 1970," Alexakis sing/speaks over a sample from Knight's 1971 hit "Mr. Big Stuff" on the forthcoming single "AM Radio." On paper it sounds cantankerous, something Grandpa might say. But these tracks--including a loud, affectionate cover of Morrison's 1967 classic "Brown Eyed Girl"--are miles from grouchy. That's largely thanks to Alexakis's exuberant vocals. He's having fun, something that this solid but depressing band, with its catalog of postaddict tunes, has never really been.

Which is why it's doubly disappointing when Everclear abandons the nostalgia trip in the second half of the album for a raft of mediocre break-up tunes. He and bandmates Craig Montoya and Greg Eklund have structured "Vol. One" like folks did back in the good old days: with two "sides." "That's the way I grew up," Alexakis explains. "With vinyl albums, with cassette tapes. So I still think in sides." Side B doesn't recover until "Wonderful," a gut-wrenching tune about a kid living in a soon-to-be-broken home. Alexakis's parents split when he was 6, so he's seen both ends of this story, and the song connects with the little kid whose experiences dominate "Vol. One's" reflective opening tunes. As ever, Alexakis is playing the cards of his life liberally, knowing that they're his chief asset in a young man's game. And he feels little pressure to quit. "Fifteen years from now, I can pretty much assure you that I won't be jumping up and down onstage with a big, fat butt singing 'Santa Monica.' But I don't know. Jagger said he wouldn't be singing 'Satisfaction' when he was 40. I'm almost 40 now, and I plan on singing my songs for a while." Class dismissed.

Everclear'Songs From an American Movie, Vol. One: Learning How to Smile'