Review Summary: It seems as though that album art is compensating for something.
It’s that time again, huh" It has been almost exactly 2 years since 311’s most recent effort. Universal Pulse (the Omaha natives’ 10th Studio album in 18 years) is the newest byproduct of a tried-and-true formula that combines a feel-good, reggae dub with some crunchy four-chord riffs and a solid rhythm section. At this point, it’s safe to say that 311 is no longer the band we fell in love with and continued to love into the early 2000’s.
Clocking in at less than 30 minutes, Universal Pulse is a quick listen. The album art is gaudy and psychedelic, which is in no way indicative of the album's tone. Experimentation of any variety is unheard of here. I don’t think 311 ever jumps out of 4/4 on this album, and the guitars feature a same-y, fuzzy tone on each track, which we’ve come to expect.
The standout performances here come from P-Nut and SA Martinez. SA’s harmonies are top notch, much improved from his earlier career. Martinez avoids awkward rap sections on Universal Pulse, which saves the listener from a smattering of cringes (see Transistor). While popping, slapping funk bass used to be more prevalent in their mix, it can still be heard on Universal Pulse. P-Nut’s rock-solid plucking helps to push these by-the-numbers riffs along. This consistency lends a familiar, upbeat quality to Universal Pulse.
Dear Chad Sexton, how’s that new prescription of Ambien" Seriously though, the drumming here is way below par. It’s not that Sexton is sloppy or lethargic - his drumming is technically sound (and then some). Chad is in the pocket, tight as ever, but the innovation has curled up and died. Spectacular fills and bombast are mourned and missed.
The guitars are nothing special either. I assume Mahoney laid everything down in studio. Mahoney’s solos seem as if they were tracked with the distinct purpose of lowering the bar, that he may melt faces during a live show. He is certainly capable of it. Most of the riffage is a chug-a-lug affair. The only picking is on 311’s signature “Mellow Bookend Track” which closes all of their recent albums. This is quite pathetic really. “I’ll Be Here Awhile” has clearly gone to straight to 311’s collective ego. They have been attempting to reproduce that closing track’s anesthetizing effect over and over, in spite of diminishing returns.
Hexum is Hexum, with his corn-fed gangster drawl. It seems as though he realizes 311 has lost their edge; Hexum's once imperative and commanding presence has atrophied.
Universal Pulse sees 311 stagnating for their third album in a row (Don’t Tread On Me, Uplifter, Universal Pulse). If the Nebraskans were a brand new act, I would probably give this a higher rating, maybe a 3. However, due to a declining trend in 311’s innovation, and consequently in their ability to invigorate the listener, this album receives an average rating.
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