If you’re going to call your latest album the heaviest of your career, you’d better deliver. For the Omaha born, LA – bred group, 311, that’s exactly what they called their ninth studio release, Uplifter. Though, come to think of it, you’d have to think pretty hard about what the band’s definition of heavy actually is: More straight head rock riffs? Check. An obvious capitalization on the current trend of indie rock? Check. Futile attempts in trying to emulate a Jamaican accent to match their affection for reggae? Well…..
To be fair, the quintet has always paid proper homage to reggae, dub and even hip-hop, managing not to butcher the latter – unlike many of the bands that emerged during the nu-metal era. Well, maybe not. 311’s signature trademark is merging various musical genres and Uplifter signifies probably their best attempt in doing so. With the assistance of super-producer Bob Rock (Metallica, Simple Plan), the band has entered into the alternative rock forum, via a quick detour into Sublime’s laid back So Cal vibe, matching rock riffs with a sunny – and sometimes expressionless – disposition.
So while tracks like “Too Much Too Fast”, with its infectious, indie demeanor and harmonious vocals, are immediately catchy, the delivery of Nick Hexum’s vocals falls somewhat flat. When he croons, “I got so much love to give,” it’s as if he doesn’t really give a damn. It’s a shame, too. Hexum still carries a good melody and has certainly improved since their major label debut, 1993’s Music, but his expressionless delivery hinders the band tenfold.
Speaking of lyrical content, don’t look for any insightful wisdom here. On the album’s first single, the admittedly catchy “Hey You”, SA Martinez delivers some real lack luster lyrics (“I’ve got one wish for this music/To be an uplift and I need an uplift to deal”) that smell of cheap, week old cheese. Then again, how important are lyrics in this genre, or even this modern day age of Britney Spears and Lady Ga Ga? In comparison to that schlock, this is pure poetry.
There are times the genre blending works and times that it sounds too clunky and disorganized. Though when it works, it really works. On “I Like the Way”, the seamless merge of funky rhythm sections and electro-blast rap choruses is excellent, and the same can be said for the sexy ska groove going on within “My Heart Sings.” The blend is smooth.
The problem here is that there’s too much going on. Glimpses of genius are muddled with disorganized composition. A good example of this is on the track, “Get Down”, which sports an excellent bass line that’s soon layered with acoustic jazz-lite melodies and a swelling, ill-fitting chorus that’s much too upbeat. Then there’s the rapping, which comes off as either forced or just downright horrible. Individually these parts may have seemed like a good idea, but together, it’s just a shoddy mixed bag.
Greatness doesn’t always come in parts, however. There are a couple gems here. “India Ink”, most likely the band’s next single, is a memorable anthem that’s tight, light and reminiscent of their earlier work. In fact, it’s just the type of single to keep their fans happy and humble, and really, that’s all that matters for 311 at this point. In some respects, their fan base should be applauded, as they’ve kept the ’90s artifact relevant in the game of pop-rock. Though if the band keeps pumping out releases like Uplifter, the fans might not keep up their end of the “deal.”