Review Summary: After a decade of approaching mediocrity, 311 once again find their voice in Uplifter.
Let's just face it; many 311 fans were concerned about the quality of their favorite band's music. From Chaos had some punch, but didn't quite seem on par with the band's widely praised earlier releases. Evolver was a step in the right direction, but took a bit too any missteps and had more duds than it should have. And Don't Tread On Me was the first album ever released by 311 to be widely criticized. At least Transistor came to be admired after some time, but nope, 4 years later Don't Tread On Me is the black sheep of 311's catalogue. Why is this? Well, it seemed that the songs were the products of commercial cookie-cutters; the substance of the songs was awkwardly weak, and at many times, non-existent. This leaves us with uplifter, an album that came out a bit after this swarm of controversy.
So, was Uplifter a success? It depends on how you look at things. For one that is looking for the next Grassroots, and the next album containing mostly rap songs, then obviously they won't find Uplifter appealing at all. However, in order to appreciate the album for what it is, the 311 fan needs to throw this mindset out of the window. Uplifter is unlike anything that the band has done, and the key to enjoying this gem of an album is treating 311 like a new band, not holding them to their previous work for comparison.
Once this is accomplished, Uplifter is a treat. Where Don't Tread On Me left us uneasy, Uplifter pats us on the back with a grin. Looking for a few catchy summer songs? You got it! Want some strong riffs from Tim Mahoney? Here it is! What's that; you're craving a few raps, crazy guitar solos and harmonies that resemble the Beach Boys at particular times? Yes, even that is accomplished on the album.
The album has so many strong points that it's hard to pick a select few. One that immediately comes to mind is "Never Ending Summer", and its breakdown/guitar solo. This is perfectly executed, flawlessly done. "Jackpot" is a rap track, not half-baked like "Solar Flare" off Don't Tread On Me but a fluid, cohesive rap piece that has become a fan favorite at concerts, appealing to new fans and enticing the older ones that bailed out back onto the scene. "India Ink" contains that hard rock edge that has been on the last few albums, but tinged with mediocrity; instead, the formula has been perfected here. "Something Out Of Nothing" also has strong riffs, and where some raps could have easily been devised, 311 strives for new territory and sings it out in a way that hasn't quite been done before by them. "Golden Sunlight" has that big, emotionally charged chorus that one can't help but sing to. "Daisy Cutter" and "My Heart Sings" are delightfully cheesy love songs, and "Too Much Too Fast" is unlike anything 311 has ever done, with the best harmonizing ever heard from Nick Hexum and SA Martinez, and it is quite a delight.
However, the one thing I fail to understand about 311 is why they chose to make the absolute best songs from the Uplifter sessions B-sides. Check it out yourself; "Get Down", "Sun Come Through" and "I Like The Way" are all songs that I honestly enjoy more than songs that actually made it onto the album. Uplifter is cogent in and of itself, but inclusion of these songs would have made it an even stronger effort, instead of leaving us with a couple of somewhat mundane songs like "Mix It Up".
Petty gripes aside, Uplifter is an enjoyable album, great summer album for the road, and perfect album for hanging out by the pool. The 311 fan should be satisfied with this release, because Uplifter is living proof that 311 is back and ready for action. Maturing can be a scary thing for many bands, but these guys make it something to look forward to.
Thanks for the compliments, everybody! It's much appreciated.
asaf- That's not what I meant. I was comparing DTOM to Transistor, saying that while both were considered mediocre releases at first, Transistor gained a solid fanbase after some time, while DTOM didn't ever reach that level. Sorry for the confusion.
@omaha - I have always thought that Transistor was well received largely on the strength of the single Beautiful Disaster, but I could be wrong. Transistor and DTOM really can't be compared in terms of style and substance.
But I thought Transistor was received weakly at first, because it was a deviation from the style that had worked so well for them (Grassroots, 311)? But then as time passed people discovered how much they liked it.
And I didn't compare the albums through style and substance, I only did through reception.