Review Summary: Insomnia Cured.
Staind is truly a band that needs no introduction whatsoever. One would struggle to find a band in rock music today with as homogenous a catologue and as these world-weary Bostonians. Since their inception, more than ten years ago, Staind has been churning out their never changing style of radio-friendly post-grunge rock. Now in 2008 the band has released their fifth proper effort, “The Illusion of Progress” and aside from the fact that it seems dangerously close to stealing a certain Lostprophets album title, it really could not have been given a more fitting name.
“Hues of Pink Floyd and straight up blues” proclaimed Aaron Lewis boldly in promotion of the new record, and while this was not a totally inaccurate statement it is somewhat misleading. It's not unlike reading the heading on a Lucky Charms box- “Now with twelve essential vitamins and minerals!” What General Mills fails to mention though is the fact that you barely get diddli squat for percentages of such nutrients- they're still the same teeth rotting sugar turds! Staind may have tossed in some of these bluesy and spacey vitamins, but it's still the same whiney angst rock. If I could finish Lewis' fragment of a sentence I might add “in a song or two.” Anyone anticipating a massive re-haul of the group's tried and true formula can drop their expectations at the door. On The Illusion of Progress one can expect to find a bluesy lick here or there as well as the sprawling Floydian epic, “The Corner,” but for the most part, this is Staind to a tee.
One of the most interesting and even ironic aspects of this record is just how self-aware the group seems to be on it. The opener, “This Is It” speaks volumes to the band's outlook on their sound. “You should take this for what it's worth-This is it and it feels like this is good enough for me.” Apparently it's also good enough for their fans and radio stations given the predictably high sales already reported for the album as well as the strong rotation of their current single, “Believe” which somehow manages to sound more like any other Staind song than any other Staind song. The cut is totally unremarkable in every way and features a typical minor key guitar melody, a lumbering mid-tempo beat, and some of the sappiest and most saccharine sweet lyrics Lewis has penned to date- “Believe in me, I know you've waited for so long, Believe in me, sometimes the weak become the strong, Believe in me, this life's not always what it seems, Believe in me, cause I was made for chasing dreams!” If that doesn't just scream bad arse I don't know what does. Apparently after all of Staind's successes and all their accumulated wealth and popularity life still sucks for these dudes. If the message of “stay the course” was not hammered in enough by these two tracks (these guys should seriously consider playing a republican convention), the second song, “The Way I Am” makes it very clear that change isn't on the map for them. Sounding almost like a reprise of “This Is It,” Lewis exclaims in the chorus “You'll never change the way I am!” Okay we get it.
With this outing Staind also continue their recent trend of continually softening and slowing their already fairly cut and dry sound. While the situation isn't so dire as to fall into the “album of ballads” pitfall many of their peers' records tend to fall victim to, virtually every track on this release is mid-tempo which lends the whole album a very lethargic feel, and the near-hour-long runtime certainly doesn't help. When the group actually does crank up the volume in “Break Away” and “Rainy Day Parade” it almost feels off-putting much like seeing a walker-bound granny get up and start doing jumping jacks.
Stubborn repetition aside, Staind deserves some credit because they do consistently do many things right. For one thing, love him or hate him, Aaron Lewis does have a very distinct voice and he knows exactly how to use it to tug directly on the listener's heartstrings, even while he's babbling on about how pathetic he is. For however uninteresting a vast majority of the songs on The Illusion of Progress are, nearly all of them feel like they could be hits; a good many of the choruses are damn near impossible to get out of one's head, much like an inescapable fog of mental angst. However if there is one MVP for this release it would have to be lead guitarist, Mike Mushok, who really spreads his wings on “Progress.” He has definitely come a long way from his days of simply playing down-tuned power chords and shrill harmonics. He provides much of the shall we say “subtle” blues influence on this album particularly with his leads on “The Way I Am” and “The Corner,” but the big news is his newfound soloing ability. While they are somewhat rare, his solos on “Pardon Me,” “Raining Again” and the surprisingly memorable closer, “Nothing Left to Say” just plain rip and are full of emotion. Mushok could be the one thing saving Staind from totally falling flat.
The Illusion of Progress is a Staind record in every sense. Anyone who signs up for this should know exactly what they're in for a long ways before they drop their zero-to-fifteen dollars. Again I emphasize, Staind have not changed, don't intend to, and really have no practical need to. They have proven themselves time and time again to be one of the most commercially successful acts in rock today and so long as Lewis continues to be his familiar, miserable self that fact also shows no signs of changing.