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Success can do a number on a band's reputation, and in Everclear's case all it took was one glorious single for the backlash to come riding up Alexakis's ass. That song -- from 1995's Sparkle and Fade -- was "Santa Monica," a liberating fusillade of teeth-rattling volume, pop smarts, and sheer willpower backed by a chant-along chorus that stood the test of repetition. The tune was a heady tonic for radio's postgrunge blahs, and predictably, what was left of Everclear's underground credibility was flushed down the crapper with it. It didn't help that Alexakis played, more vocally than most, the part of the street-smart entrepreneur with an eye on the bottom line.

On So Much for the Afterglow Alexakis struggles -- and fails -- to come to terms with his newly acquired good fortune. And while Everclear deserves credit for cannily advertising its predicament (one that has become distressingly common in the fickle alt-rock marketplace), the most enticing thing about this followup is, alas, its title. Melodies skate by without a hint of authority, and power chords pummel but fail to deliver a decisive blow; as one midtempo charge from drummer Greg Eklund segues into another, the effect is almost anesthetizing.

Alexakis tries to air out his pop sensibilities (prefab Beach Boys harmonizing ushers in the release's first track, but mostly his efforts come up contrived (e.g., the awkward string accompaniment on "Amphetamine" and "Like a California King"). Like some lonely beatnik millionaire trying in vain to smother his material ambitions with halfhearted melancholy and last-minute regrets, he bumps his shins on one bad rags-to-riches cliche after another. "He'd sell his soul/To make the monster dance," he sings over a signature marching-band rhythm peppered with horns. "They can't hurt you unless you let them." Sure.

Truth is, Everclear followed its own advice to the letter. They came, they conquered, they basked, however briefly. Now they want to take it all back. Too late. These days, the fade is as inevitable as the sparkle.

-- Hobart Rowland

Coolio
My Soul
(Tommy Boy)

40 Thevz
Honor Amongst Thevz
(Mercury)

Jesus had his apostles, King Arthur his Knights of the Round Table, Sinatra his Rat Pack. Throughout history, whenever iconoclasts have surfaced in search of their true calling (though I hardly think Sinatra ever thought of it on that cosmic a scale; he was happy singing songs and shagging starlets), they've looked to the support of a small caravan of loyal backers. Hip-hop is no exception. Virtually every hot rapper has a crew of sycophants who want to share in (and ride the coattails of) their leader's success. Problem is, when these acolytes spin off into their own projects, the results usually blow.

Enter Coolio and his trusty sidekicks 40 Thevz. Coolio's been battling a bit of a street-cred backlash since the release of his 1995 sophomore smash Gangsta's Paradise, and with the new My Soul he lashes out at his detractors. The disc may not be as note-perfect a commercial enterprise as Paradise, but it still bristles with irrepressible Coolio intelligence, empathy, and pep. The CD's best moments are its funkiest. Those include "2 Minutes and 21 Seconds of Funk" (in which Coolio barks, "My name ain't Rick James/But I'll burn your ass with fire"), "Throwdown 2000," "Let's Do It" (both as hysterical as they are propulsive), and "One Mo'," which cribs brilliantly from the Roger Troutman school of groove. As long as Coolio keeps exhibiting vibrancy and class of the sort that dominates My Soul (what other rapper would sample Pachelbel's Canon in D?), bad-mouthing him will continue to be as trivial an exercise as sticking up for Hammer.

As for Honor Amongst Thevz, it's all slink and slide, with Coolio's back-up posse reveling in a retro-rhythmic charm all its own. "Tennis Shoe Pimpin'" and "Let My Mind Be Free" have 40 Thevz dishing out an updated version of Sugar Hill Gang-era roller-disco rap and funk. There are a few rough patches, especially when the bloated, if somewhat ironic, message track "Thank God the Children" threatens to spoil the party mood. But overall, Honor proves that talent can be contagious from leader to followers.

-- Craig D. Lindsey

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