Monday, June 08, 2009

Album Review: 311 - Uplifter (4.5 / 5)

With no more pop albums being released this month (Black Eyed Peas' The E.N.D. is the only one left and newcomer Little Boots I still have to check out) I've had a lot more time to check out some new music, or in this case, music I started to listen to but stopped years ago. This week I've been constantly listening to Kelly Clarkson's third album, My December which essentially was a more angrier rock sound for her (see, "Never Again" and "Sober") wanting to explore of the genre –I came across American rock band, 311 – they're style of rock is very interesting as they incorporate elements of rap into their work. I remember receiving their third album, 1995s The Blue Album (also known as 311) as an unwanted present early last year ("Down," was a magnificent alternative piece) – I also remember admiring their work very much, but my admiration never materialized.

Uplifter is 311's first album in almost 5 years, following up to 2005s Don't Tread on Me, and the result of their lengthy break from music are somewhat messy but essentially a very good alternative-meets-pop album. Uplifter differs from the last album, as it ventures in a more , pop contemporary direction, not incorporating such afflictive elements such as reggae – but still holds some faint Caribbean vibes, giving most of the songs on here an ethnic feel. Additionally also disposing of the rap constituent. The opening song and lead single, "Hey You" is an upbeat rock number – backing itself well with a wall of guitars and drums before detonating into a Jason Mraz style sound on the verses. "It's Alright," swiftly follows, It's not so much rock but a nice breezy pop-forced number enduring a nice composition of strings and drums – possibly showing the most pop presence out of all the songs, but with that said, most of the songs on here do have some pop existence in there somewhere.

"Mix It Up," (not to be confused with "All Mixed Up," from The Blue Album) starts out very gritty and abrasive before it brings in the electronic guitar, which hangs very effectively in the background – rounding off the piece very well. The drums also linger in the background, but are nowhere near as effective as their not a dominant element to the song. "Golden Sunlight," is a dainty, blusterous rock ballad, which really receives its credit when it approaches its climax – It's also nicely backed with a killer chorus. "India Ink," is a haunting dark number – really paving its way through the adamant strums of the electronic guitar, it's really the albums more hardcore rock devoted moments. I'll admit the chorus is lacking a bit – It's missing some sort of spice that the other more haunting songs have.

Following up is "Daisy Cutter," which quickly recovers the pop – supported by a very nice melody, well before the guitars and drums kick in, when the chorus approaches – where it ventures into a more alternative rock composition. "Too Much Too Fast," is nice mix of contemporary pop with just the right dose of alternative. This would make a good single, maybe even give the band their first taste of chart success (their highest charting singles in the U.S. are "Down," and "All Mixed Up," which both peaked inside the top 40; #37 and #36 respectively, but not ascending any higher). It nicely paces with buoyant configuration. "Never Ending Summer," is very lackluster when it comes to its verses but only revives itself a tad in its messy chorus – the song is pretty much all over the pace, its instruments don't seem quite in line with each other. This marks the albums not too spectacular moment.

The mushy mid-tempo, "Two Drops In the Ocean," adopts a mellow arrangement traipsing with strings and very conspicuous drums. It's very uncomfortably placed in the middle of the album – It obviously has its poppy moments, but I feel this may be going over the edge. Maybe if they incorporated some electronics it would've sounded more fitting to the album, but it's not a bad song. "Something Out of Nothing," brings the album back to prominence and does it very well. I love the melody in the chorus, building the acoustics and electronic guitars around it immaculately.

After, ("Hey You" and "Too Much Too Fast") the best track on the album is, "Jackpot" which finds the band returning to their rock-rap days, even if its just a quick reminiscent. It's a boisterous number, indulging in a rugged heavy groove – sounding a tad Limp Bizkit, vocals clearly presented upong the raging disposition. Faultless track. Slowing things down is, "My Heart Sings" a fragile mid-tempo, showing moments of percussion in the chorus – admittedly I do find the verses very bromidic, nothing really noteworthy. The chorus only does a little to revive its fate. "I Like The Way," thumps a slick eletronic bassline – powered by non-other than the electronic guitar and some drums lingering in the background, but here it's really all about the chorus, venturing in an anthem like configuration ("baby we're ready; yeah, yeah... can we rock-steady, yeah, yeah, yeah") very catchy. Another track I really love.

"Get Down," begins with a nice mellow presentation, offering a peaceful accumulation of strings – as presumed, the songs kicks it up a notch (well a couple notches) as it brings in the electronic guitar and embarks on the thundering chorus – which is also another quick reminiscent of their signature rock-rap. I really appreciated the fact that they didn't overuse it on here. The song draws some harsh influences from some of Linkin Park albums, er, notable, Hybrid Theory. The album closes with the Carribean flavored, "How Long Has It Been" which abandons the electronic guitar and brings in acoustics, a more soulful composition and a relatively more clear vocal arrangement.

Uplifter is a great alternative-pop contemporary-rock album, but it's not without its flaw, while the alt," "My Heart Sings" and "Never Ending Summer") but apart from that it's a great album. It combines the three genres really well without seeming as though its genre hopping, which is essentially a very hard thing to do, when a band (or artist) want to show their versatility in a more in-your-face way. I'll make sure to check out more of their older stuff, everything before, The Blue Album (Unity, I read that this album was no longer in print, but I should be able to find it on the internet somewhere; Music, which was essentially their first official studio album; Grassroots, which saw critical acclaim) and everything after it (Transistor, which is beheld as the albums most experimental offering to date; Soundsystem; From Chaos; Evolver and heir last album, Don't Tread on Me).

Best: Hey You, Too Much Too Fast, Jackpot, Mix It Up, It's Alright, Daisy Cutter, Get Down


Todd said...

Question about "Daisy Cutter". Did you listen to the lyrics, Is it about the bomb?

J.Mensah said...

Hmm... I hadn't thought about it. Now that I listened the song doesn't seem to make any reference to the bomb, although the chorus may do, it goes: "my daisy you make me go crazy / you know i'm after your musical slaughter a more musical disaster"

nice observation :)

Anonymous said...

no way in hell its just about the bomb. first of all, its musical laughter (as in laughing), not slaughter. the song is about a girl who he is crazy for obviously named daisy and they do reference the bomb by saying she "blows my mind" and talking about how powerful her heart is when it "detonates". its an awesome song about a guy trying to act cool for this girl when he should just be himself

lyric reference
"i cant believe what you create
when you let your heart detonate
you let your mind go with one blast in another
and what comes next i will await, hmmm
tell me again the one about the time
we first got together and you blew my mind
i find my mind in the gutter
when i think of my daisy cutter"

Anonymous said...

Nice review! One thing though; I don't think it's fair to claim that 311 are influenced by other hybrid bands such as Limp Bizkit and Linken Park. 311 have been doing the whole rap/rock thing long before Limp Bizkit and Linken Park ever existed and essentially helped pave the way for these bands.
Check out some of their older albums like Grassroots(1994) and Music (1993).