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Slow Motion Daydream may not be as piously thematic as The Rising, but Everclear leader Art Alexakis sure has a lot to say about our nation’s state of affairs. From the 9/11 laments of the string-swelled “Science Fiction” and closing ballad “The New York Times” to the anti-Republican fable of lead single “Volvo Driving Soccer Mom” (whose protagonist says she “used to be a bad girl…/But now I know my right wing from my wrong”), Everclear’s fifth album sees Alexakis shift from daddy-hating navel-gazer to fist-shaking Everyman. The songs, however, remain essentially the same: Guitar-heavy “Blackjack” veils a John Ashcroft rant with a “Father of Mine”-style nursery-rhyme melody, and album-opener “How to Win Friends and Influence People”—and, actually, the majority of the other 10 tracks here—is radio-friendly grunge lite in the style of Sparkle & Fade’s “Santa Monica.” You won’t find poetry in Alexakis’ straightforward lyrics, which plumb psychobabble depths in fresh-start slow-burner “New Blue Champion” (“I don’t want to hear you say/That you think I am damaged too/Because I know you know/That the damage in me…/Comes from the damage in you”) and rise to self-important heights on “I Want to Die a Beautiful Death” (“I just want to get lost in my beautiful self…/I don’t want to live forever/I want to die a beautiful death”). But touches of humor are evident in “Soccer Mom”—which reflects a different type of social consciousness with the question “Where do all the porn stars go?”—and the rest of the album does eventually add up to an overall message of hope for our bruised country. Long-term fans won’t be surprised by anything on Slow Motion Daydream, and I suppose that’s part of the point: Hard-edged pop candy is one thing in the world that hasn’t changed at all. —Tricia Olszewski