Earlier this year, Everclear dropped their ninth album, Black Is the New Black, and it found them returning to a time before they became known as that “Father of Mine” band or the guys behind the “Wonderful” song that showed up on your Now That’s What I Call Music! compilation in the dawn of the aughts. Specifically, Black Is the New Black recalls the band’s heavier grunge heard on their sophomore effort, Sparkle and Fade, which landed 20 years ago today, May 23.

Capitol Records
Capitol Records

While proceeding albums and radio hits, like “Everything to Everyone” and “I Will Buy You a New Life,” may have afforded the Art Alexakis-led outfit mainstream success, 1995’s Sparkle and Fade — Everclear’s first album with Capitol Records — was a breakthrough moment in its own right.

Following a childhood colored by tragedy -- Alexakis’ father abandoned his family at a young age; his brother passed from a heroin overdose several years later; and a former girlfriend committed suicide around the same time (events that would later inspire much of his work with Everclear) -- Alexakis moved to San Francisco and launched a cowpunk outfit under the moniker Colorfinger and released their one and only album with his own short-lived Shindig Records.

After his label collapsed and his band split up, Alexakis made another move — this time to Portland. There, he met his soon-to-be bandmates, bassist Craig Montoya and drummer Scott Cuthbert. Together, they released their first EP as Everclear, which was eventually expanded for their debut LP, World of Noise, in 1993.

Afterward, Cuthbert left the band and was replaced by Greg Eklund on drums, and Everclear signed with Capitol — effectively poising them for Sparkle and Fade, an album that acts as a proper introduction to the band’s hook-laden brand of grunge.

Singles “Heroin Girl” — a song inspired by the deaths of Alexakis’ brother and girlfriend — and “Santa Monica” placed Everclear on the rotation of alt-rock radio, with the latter topping Billboard’s Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and placing on the Top 40, too. Certainly in hindsight, “Santa Monica” was a prelude to the infectious power-pop of latter-day Everclear, albeit with heavier riffs and Alexakis’ now-trademark confessional lyrics.

“Strawberry” and “You Make Me Feel Like a Whore” were perhaps even more indicative of what was to come from the Portland-based rockers. “Strawberry” drives forward with its major-key call to arms and swelling harmonies, while “You Make Me Feel Like a Whore” (wherein Alexakis sings exactly what you think he might sing) is a signature example of Alexakis’ no-frills songwriting style that sounds more like he’s penning a diary entry rather than a ‘90s radio anthem.

Recently, Alexakis remembered Sparkle and Fade as a time that very productive and fruitful in terms of his writing (via Music Feeds):

I wrote ['Sparkle and Fade'’s “Queen of the Air”] at night, in the summer of ’94, right before we went into the studio. We were just trying to make the best record that we could. I was kind of on fire as a songwriter at that point, y’know — I was wiring a lot of songs. I had what you call a fire in the belly. I din’t have a similar passion for making music with that level of productivity for a long time after that whole period.

Two years after Sparkle and Fade, Everclear returned with So Much for the Afterglow, a single-producing machine that led to their first and only Grammy nomination to date. The band returned in the early ‘00s with even more radio-ready tunes on Songs From an American Movie Vol. One: Learning How to Smile. However, with each subsequent album following Sparkle and Fade, Everclear sounded less and less like their mid-‘90s selves. That is until Black Is the New Black — an album even Alexakis describes as the “hardest-rocking record that we’ve made since Sparkle and Fade.”

In honor of Sparkle and Fade’s 20th anniversary, Everclear will take their sophomore full-length on the road, playing the album alongside cuts from Black Is the New Black -- songs Alexakis believes complement and suit one another. Likewise, Everclear will make an appearance on this year’s Summerland Tour — a venture Alexakis established with Sugar Ray’s Mark McGrath three years ago to bring together Platinum-selling artists from the ‘90s who are still touring and making new music. But for Alexakis, his so-called reunion tours aren’t motivated by nostalgia. Instead, it’s a matter of embracing his past rather than denying it — especially in the light of the sudden rise to limelight that followed So Much for the Afterglow. What’s more, Alexakis is determined to incorporate that past into his band’s still very active present.

“I think that’s what being in a band for twenty, thirty years is all about,” he told Music Feeds. “You have to be in touch with your past. You can’t ignore it or act like it didn’t happen. You’ve got to learn not to make the same mistakes twice.”