Eve 6 – It’s All In Your Head (2004): A forgotten, dark pop-rock masterpiece

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

When I take a look the artists that have left the most tremendous impact on me, most of them are pretty objectively great. To name a few: Billy Joel, my first musical love, sells out arenas. Relient K, the first modern band I took seriously, has had their latest album called a ‘masterpiece’ and a ‘classic’ by reputable music writers. The Beatles, who made convinced me that music can be art, have college classes taught about them. I once saw a concert ticket headlining Reel Big Fish – Streetlight Manifesto, the two bands who convinced me ska can be great, scalped for four times its face value.

There’s one band I adore whose legacy appears to passing away fast: Eve 6.

When these three fresh-faced musicians stormed out of high school with a contract from RCA, they quickly released their self-titled debut, a thoroughly slick rock album difficult to compartmentalize: Post-grunge? Punk-pop? Alternative? Critics bestowed it with such backhanded compliments as “Eve 6 shows enormous potential.”

The follow-up, Horrorscope, broadened the band’s sound as well as their appeal. Numerous tracks crawled up the modern rock charts. Perhaps it was an ominous sign that the album’s biggest hit, Here’s to the Night — while one of the band’s best songs and an incredible ballad — is pretty different from Eve 6’s usual sound.

This brings us to their third and final pre-breakup album, It’s All in Your Head. The masses ignored it and the critics shrugged it off. But they’re all wrong. It’s All in Your Head — while not perfect — is Eve 6’s opus, a dark pop-rock masterpiece.

Listening through the album a few days ago for the first time in awhile, It’s All in Your Head sounds better then ever. It’s hard to believe the album is over a half-decade old, because it still sounds fresh. It showcases the band’s ability to construct solid pop hooks, but this time they’re edgy and colorful. There’s a nervy desperation in these songs that feels like it could explode with rage or despair or desolation at any moment. And it sometimes does.

Every piece of the album and the sound fits together. The drum-work is menacing. The guitar-work is varied, exciting, melodic, and wonderfully loud most of the time.  The flourishes of electronica evoke a hazy state of confusion that only adds to the rich, convincing sound of the album.

But the real treat is the vocal work. Max Collins emerges with one of my favorite vocal performances from any album ever. On previous albums, he’d occasionally sound like he was trying to be hip, too cool for school. Here, he sounds fully invested in the music. His vocal range is stretched to its limit, but the occasional crack and strain match the themes of breakdown and regret that fill the album. His voice lends the album a real honesty, as if he’s truly experiencing what the songs describe.

It’s All In Your Head is largely about loneliness and despair. It completes a nice three-album cycle. Eve 6’s debut is mostly about gnawing emptiness,  Horrorscope is mostly about brief passions, and It’s All in Your Head is mostly about the regret in letting that passion slip away.

I normally don’t advocate thinking of an album as simply a collection of tracks, but I have a lot I want to say about these songs, so I’ll break my rule — if for no other reason, because I don’t see many sites giving these songs the credit they deserve.

  1. Without You Here – Though it sets the dark tone and lonely theme of the rest of the album (“Without you here, I feel my fear”) this is the song that most resembles Eve 6’s previous work. Like pretty much all of Horrorscope and Eve 6, it’s a straightforward guitar-bass-drums rocker, though Collins’s vocals are a bit more harried. These aren’t really marks against Without You Here, which is one of the better songs on the album.
  2. Think Twice – The album really hits its stride with Think Twice. It was the album’s one semi-hit, a paranoid lament from a jealous ex-boyfriend. The song breaks down into an emotional climax with “What is it you really want? I’m tired of asking…” and features one of Eve 6’s most memorable choruses.
  3. At Least We’re Dreaming – Probably the best song on the album and best song by Eve 6, period. It has playful guitar hooks, a shoutable chorus, and the best drumming in any Eve 6 song. Gem of a song.
  4. Still Here Waiting – It opens with a searing, loud guitar riff, and descends into an anarchic cry of “I’m still here waiting for you.” More than any song, this is where Collins’s vocals hit on all cylinders.
  5. Good Lives – The tune for the chorus is sugary enough that it could have been on one of Eve 6’s earlier albums, but the sound the band builds around the chorus is so melancholy it could only be a part of this album. The song is a backlash against societal expectations — very much a punk theme even though this is one of the less punk-esque tracks on the album.
  6. Hey Montana – Hey Montana is probably my least favorite track on the album because of how so slowly and sparsely it builds. It’s easily the strangest song that Eve 6 ever penned, with a distinct “cowboy” sound to it. Collins’s strained vocals are again the biggest attraction here.
  7. Bring the Night On – One of the best songs on the album. The brooding, minor chord progression builds into one of Eve 6’s most thrilling choruses and dark textures. The lyrics are a love song from the perspective of an insomniac and the music echoes the confusion and edginess of a sleep-deprived brain.
  8. Friend of Mine – A fan favorite, Friend of Mine is the most upbeat moment of the album. It’s one of my least favorite tracks here. Perhaps a respite was needed after seven tracks of gloom, but the repetitive guitar-work doesn’t do much for me.
  9. Girlfriend – With a slick production and clean sound, Girlfriend sounds like it doesn’t fit. (And I’ll admit, my guess is the band was trying to re-create Here’s to the Night.) But Girlfriend is a good song, and it somehow fits in perfectly. It’s the best kind of break-up song — sad, but not excessively desperate — and the pop polish serves as a nice change of pace before the album’s explosive goodbye.
  10. Not Gonna Be Alone Tonight – Like Think Twice, Not Gonna Be Alone Tonight is paranoia. As also suggested by Hokis, Not Gonna Be implies that substances might have played a big role in the conception of this album.
  11. Hokis – It opens and closes with fragments of indiscernible voices talking. Everything in between feels a bit fragmented, too. The excellent chorus only rears its head twice. The heartbreaking “yeah-yeah-yeah” cries Collins makes a few times through the song don’t mesh well with the rest of the song. The lyrics are an off-putting love song about an addict. In spite — or perhaps because — of these rough edges, Hokis works incredibly well. It’s a wrenching portrait of soul-sucking addiction.
  12. Arch Drive Goodbye – A heart-rending but fulfilling finale to Eve 6’s career, Arch Drive Goodbye tackles the conflicting emotions of a farewell to a loved one. It ends with a upbeat wink: “Pick yourself up off the ground.” I’ve read that Eve 6 ended their farewell concert at the Gateway Arch with this song, which couldn’t be more perfect.

It’s All In Your Head is a stunning finale for Eve 6, but it appears their breakup is actually a hiatus. The band is regrouping and working on a new album. They played a few new tracks at one of their reunion concerts I saw last fall. The songs weren’t bad but were a bit too electronic and didn’t hit me with much impact. I don’t expect them to top It’s All In Your Head, but I’m glad we’ll get to hear more from them. An album as good as this demands more.

Even if the band releases another album, It’s All In Your Head will still mark the end of an era and the final result of Eve 6 part one. I couldn’t be more impressed with it as a farewell note, and I’m really pleased that it’s still a compelling listen six years later.

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