Everclear: Sparkle and Fade
Although I didn’t know it at the time, Sparkle and Fade is the second album by Portland, OR band Everclear. The singles from this album grew on me, “Heroin Girl” the first single was so overplayed on KNDD in early 1995 that you could practically predict it would play in between the commercial breaks. “Santa Monica” chugs along but never really picks up. It wasn’t until the third single “Heartspark Dollarsign” that I perked my ears and took notice. There was a story being told in those lyrics and I wanted to listen.
The album starts off with “Electra Made Me Blind”, a slow build of a song which tells the story of being into drugs and trying to get clean, and all the tribulations that entails. Lead singer Art Alexakis has made no illusion that he has struggled with addiction in the past, losing family members and more to the effects of drugs and alcohol. In fact, track two, “Heroin Girl” is autobiographical in that it recounts when he and a girlfriend were doing heroin together and she died of an overdose. The song unfolds as a story in that it seems the narrator was happy during those times and hearing police who were called in describing the scene as “just another overdose” was a catalyst toward him trying to get clean. “Heroin Girl” is Everclear’s original hit single, at least in the Seattle area of 1995.
Tracks three and four, “You Make Me Feel Like a Whore” and “Santa Monica” have always seemed to fit together to me. The guitar progression in both songs are the same, although track four is played on an acoustic guitar. “Whore” is pretty straight forward in that it seems to be a screed against somebody who only knows how to put somebody down. “Santa Monica” is a wistful tale of imagining escaping the problems of the world by swimming out far enough past the breakers of the Pacific Ocean outside the titular city that they can just “watch the world die” as the song describes.
Track six, “Strawberry”, is the song that has kept this album in my consciousness for the past 20 years. I picked up this album when there were already several singls, but this song, which was never a single, is the one I took to heart. Nominally, this is a song about falling in with a crowd who enjoy doing dangerous things including drugs. That chorus though, “don’t fall down now/you will never get up”, became an anthem and rallying cry for me when I became a young parent and knew I had to get through college in order to provide a better life for the family I had created. Life was hard during those times, but I knew it would be better if I could get a college degree and have a career versus have a job. It worked; less than a year after getting out of college, I was buying my first home.
“Heartspark Dollarsign” ends side one of the album, and it’s a track about Art and a girlfriend from his past who happened to have a different skin tone from him. The track describes the looks he got from his co-workers, the disdain he got from his family, and the feeling of never fitting in he got from the town as a whole. This song always moved me in it’s description of blind racism, but now that I’ve had a girlfriend with significantly different skin tone for several years, it makes me really glad that we haven’t had to deal with this sort of situation. I know as a society, we’re not yet “post-racial”, but in our little bit of the world, the only comments we have ever received on the matter was a security guard telling us that “our kids were going to be beautiful”.
Side two of the album doesn’t feature any radio singles, but still has quite a few decent tracks, the first of which is “Her Brand New Skin”. The track is about feelng stifled in a relationship with somebody going through a twelve step program. She acts like she’s turned over a new leaf and is no longer the same person she once was, but he sees her as a person who has become domineering since she “got clean” and is now pestering him to do the same.
The punk rocker in me loves the sound and feel of track ten, “Nehalem”, a small town in Oregon. The people in the song are coping with the loss of a child, the woman by getting out of the town and ostentaciously being seen with other men, the man having to accept the fact that things can never again be the way they once were. This song chugs a long at a head bobbing pace for less than two minutes and never overstays its welcome.
One quick story about track eleven, “Pale Green Stars”. When I was living in an apparetment during my last days of college and my first few months of working, my son’s room, from day one, had those sticker stars, which had been painted over at some point in the past. However, at the end of the day, when the room became dark enough to be able to see the glow of faint painted over stars, you could still make them out. That memory will forever be tied to this song for me.
The last track on the album, “My Sexual Life”, seems to encapsulate the theme of the entire album. Who knows how many of the tracks are actually autobiographical, but there seem to be tracks about several different women from the singer’s past. Instead of hiding the fact that life has been hard and taken many dark turns, Art Alexakis took those moments and turned it into a gritty album filled with real-world situations to which many people could relate. Life in a small town can be trying when you know that you don’t fit in with the small town lifestyle. In a small town, too many people know who you are, which can make fumbling your way through life difficult, I would imagine especially so if you have a reputation as a junkie with a revolving cast of women involved in your life. Art turned those experiences and anger into 14 easily relatable tracks of gritty reality, and the fact that even 20 years later those tracks continue to have an emotional resonance with my life is clearly cause for celebration.