Review Summary: Old-school fans curse this record for carrying 311 to a commercial audience, but its done well, and there's still plenty of raw-energy trademark 311 material as well.
Up until early 1996, 311 had only succeeded in building a cult following with little to no mainstream appeal. Even upon the initial mid-summer 1995 release of their self-titled “Blue Album,” where they choose to take more shifts toward the commercial audience than usual, they only made it as far as gold status by the end of the year. However, releasing “Down,” as a single proved to be their key to the door of commercial success. The entire process of their mainstream development from that point was truly an exciting phenomenon to watch, as more and more people began to accept alt-rock fusions such as the rap-rock and funk/reggae trademark sounds of bands like Incubus and 311.
Much like their transition from debut “Music,” to sophomore classic “Grassroots,” the transition to the “Blue Album,” comes with clear-cut amendments to their arsenal of style that are easily identifiable. For starters, every other song thrives on a particularly poppy main riff, and there's nothing wrong with that; the approach fits 311's groove like a puzzle piece PLUS it makes the overall roots of their style much more easily accessible. “Down,” is a flawless opener, energetic, passionate, fired up, overplayed on radio stations across America, and still its flame doesn't burn out. “All Mixed Up,” is a perfectly balanced funk-rock staple, and “Guns are for P***ies,” unwinds a rather attractive main riff that sports catchiness intended to please the masses.
The beauty only truly begins there, as the album is fairly portioned with songs written to cross-over, and songs that are slightly and delightfully more obscure that show the band is still content with their laurels. “Random,” kicks off with Sexton snapping a quick beat up, leading into shaky stacatto from Mahoney, and an acidic pre-chorus riff. “Hive,” features grimey guitar riffage all throughout that may taste bitter at first, but quickly grinds itself into your taste buds in order to become an acquired taste. All of this savory flavor plus the top-shelf energy of Hexum re-assuring how “hard” 311 plays with clever ways to talk trash “You're all up in my mix like F***** Betty Crocker!,” and Martinez' usual over the top antics, “On the town, one light I'm a glow worm.”
Of course no 311 record would be complete without its handful of laid-back surf jams, and the self-titled album comes with “Purpose,” and “Sweet,” which both successfully fulfill the role of relaxing Caribbean groove, but also are more heavy, with doses of electric guitar, than earlier cuts that fit the same category like “8:16 am,” or “1,2,3.” “Purpose,” introduces itself with a seductive and light-weight reggae riff that transforms into an electric jam for its chorus. “Sweet,” follows a similar formula but with a slower tempo and overall funkier mood.
Unfortunately, there are in fact times on this record when the group takes the themes into territory only their inner-circle would completely understand. “Loco,” a quick and painless expedition through the band's so-called fantastic shroom-trip, manages to be highly addictive, and easily comprehended. But then there's “Brodels,” a dangerously odd “story” featuring characters that Hexum, in the lyrics, claims to have dubbed. There's no telling what the “Nazz,” actually is but the Brodels is (even though it is Brodel(s) plural..) the Nazz, and apparently the Nazz knows where it's at, whatever it is. Not to mention, SA Martinez takes quite a lyrical voyage from lines discussing his journey through the sea, to “having phone sex with a deaf girl.” His themes are a totally mixed bag that exhibit no cohesion. Another ball-and-chain for the Blue Album is “DLMD (Don't Let Me Down),” which is essentially Hexum calling out a male figure that's abused a female friend in one way or another. He cries “Hang in there, use your head, how can I love you after your dead,” and on the outro rants, “If you hurt her again, I'll F*** you up!” The song features a mildly enjoyable set of melodies and the general feel of it seems a bit too trashy or perhaps simply unfitting for 311's style of music.
In addition to the dread instilled by these songs, the Blue Album doesn't give bassist P-nut the time of day he was granted on the records released prior. There were a number of moments where Hexum would command on record for P-nut to take the song over with some slap-bass, and many other songs would feature his playing much higher in the mix. It may be part of their approach to mainstream praise, but it certainly is missed on this record, and would've been worthy of bonus points. Closer “T&P Combo” is the only thing to really feature thick-sounding bass licks.
As a whole, 311's Blue Album serves primarily as the instrument of their cross-over to mainstream, but the cross-over moments are mostly well-performed, and there are still plenty of tracks that feature use of the un-modified original 311 formula. Though the extreme obscurity of “DLMD,” and “Brodels,” comes a bit unexpectedly to break the album's flow, “Down,” is an unforgettable classic, and songs like “Hive,” and “Purpose,” are also easily distinguishable, memorable, and enjoyable. With 14 songs, there's a lot to love and little filler.