The last few years have been rough on Everclear. The band's sixth album, 2003's "Slow Motion Daydream," was an artistic and commercial disappointment. Conflict between singer/guitarist Art Alexakis and bassist Craig Montoya over the band's musical direction resulted in Montoya's departure (leaving Alexakis as Everclear's only original member), along with longtime drummer Greg Eklund. A career retrospective disc ended the band's relationship with Capitol Records. Alexakis suffered a divorce and bankruptcy. Most fans probably assumed they'd heard the last of the band, but Art Alexakis is back in 2006 with an entirely new five-piece Everclear, a new record label, and a new album, "Welcome to the Drama Club."
Musically, the news is mostly good. Fans may miss the signature style of the Montoya/Eklund rhythm section, but the larger, more keyboard-driven band fleshes out the sound nicely. "Drama Club" mostly avoids Everclear's usual wall of electric guitars, favoring a mellower style akin to 2000's "Songs from an American Movie, Vol. One." Art Alexakis turns in his catchiest set of tunes in a while, stumbling only on a couple of misguided attempts to sound funky ("Shine," "Taste of Hell," and a head-scratchingly awful rap hidden after the last track). As usual, fans will spot playful allusions to past Everclear songs ("Under the Western Stars"' bridge recalls "When It All Goes Wrong Again," and "The Drama King" quotes the guitar intro from "Father of Mine"). After a few listens, "Broken," "Under the Western Stars," and "Your Arizona Room" will lodge themselves in your head alongside all the older Everclear classics.
Lyrically, however, Art disappoints. The silly album title proves dispiritingly accurate; the unrelenting focus is on sex and relationship drama and over 13 songs it gets obnoxious, especially since Art doesn't have anything particularly insightful to say. I can't help wishing that Art would grow up a little, find some new inspiration, and stop spinning his wheels analyzing his personal life endlessly in song after song-- or at least, find something new and interesting to say about it.