Review Summary: Onward 311 crawl.
In the music industry, planning out when and how an album will be released is a key factor in determining its success. Every band wants to send their material out to stores on a date that will provide them with optimal sales, dates where no other big names are releasing their long-anticipated works. When I heard that 311 would be releasing their 11th studio album, Ster3ol1th1c
on March 11th signed to 311 Records, with two tall towers spelling out the number 11 on the cover, I was mildly entertained by all the 311 references they managed to cram into one album release. Yet at the same time, it also seemed like a cheap gimmick, and part of me worried that the record would be yet another misfire, with all the creative planning going to waste. With Uplifter
and Don’t Tread on Me
being the band’s worst albums, it seemed as if they were on a downward slump, never to make enjoyable music ever again. Every new 311 album came with the same old same old, rehashing the sound that made them such a big act in the first place.
marks the first 311 release without Bob Rock as a producer since 2005’s Don’t Tread on Me
, and without him, the band manages to make their best album in a decade. Although it may not transcend Grassroots
-levels of excellence, it’s nice to see 311 rebound from a few shoddy efforts. Stereolithic
’s production is much crisper and clearer than the Rock-manipulated Universal Pulse
. Every riff has been refined to near-perfection, giving the album’s sound a much needed boost. “Ebb and Flow” kicks off the album perfectly – the track’s crunching riffs and groovy bassline give the track a more rock-driven feel, while its rapping section is infectiously constructed. The first sign that Stereolithic
was going to be 311’s best album in the last decade was its opening one-two punch of “Ebb and Flow” and lead single “Five of Everything”. As the first glimpse of the record’s sound, the latter’s melodic harmonies and fast-paced riff managed to make it the best 311 first single since “Creatures (For a While)”. Its lyrics seem to antagonize consumerism, with lines like “Got five of everything but I just need one / My brain telling me what I want, what I need” detailing an individual controlled by his desire to want more.
The desire to want more is one shared by many 311 fans who have been hoping for the next coming of Transistor
ever since the new millennium. The main problem with the band’s last few releases was that their sound felt recycled and rehashed from their glory days, and although Stereolithic
doesn’t improve on this by much, it’s executed in a much better fashion. With that said, none of the album’s fifteen songs are bad
; however, some are a bit bland and lack the energy of its highlights. The slower pace of “Revelation of the Year” and “Friday Afternoon” provide the album’s weakest songs, as Nick Hexum’s vocals sound completely bored and devoid of any emotion. The rap-driven “The Great Divide” feels clunky and tacked on, while the reggae-influenced “Sand Dollars” is a song that brings images of the bed in my head, rather than palm trees and the ocean breeze.
Even with its flaws, Stereolithic
still provides more highlights than expected. “Boom Shanka” (despite its stupid title) boasts a melodic chorus, memorable riffs and a short but sweet scream by Hexum following the bridge. The album also ends on a high note – the last five tracks rank amongst the album’s upper echelon, with “Tranquility” being the best 311 closer in a long time. What starts as a very ‘chill’ song soon grows into a rocker as soon as its hard riff kicks in for good. Guitarist Tim Mahoney lets loose his greatest solo on the record, while his work on “First Dimension” and “Existential Hero” is also top-notch, the latter of which also features a tremendous drum section. Even their reggae side shines in the relaxing “Make it Rough”, which not only incorporates a wailing guitar solo into its dreamy sound, but also Martinez vocals that aren’t too bad. But for every standout track, there’s a bland and uninspired one, and although there are more excellent tracks then there are bad ones, it’s still an aspect that 311 can improve on.
For an album bloated with fifteen tracks, Stereolithic
manages to make it to the end without burning out all its energy too early. The number of songs on the record may have been a tad too much, but the filler tracks are luckily spread apart from each other for the most part. Although the album’s extraterrestrial-themed cover suggests a more experimental, spacey sound, Stereolithic
at its core is nothing different from the 311 of old. The lack of progression eleven albums in may be unsettling to some, but it’s hard to fault them when they reuse their old material so well. The improvement in production, songwriting and instrumentals is what propels this over their last few misfires, proving that they still have something left in them 20 years later. It may not come original, but not fixing something that broke manages to provide a welcome surprise.