Since the moment 311 got famous, the Nebraska
band has been slightly outside the zeitgeist in one way or another: too
easygoing for the late grunge years, too clean for the rap-rock era, too
earnest for the Bush grind, and generally too Nebraska to be playing reggae riffs at any
time. But what about those millions of records sold? They were because of the
hooks and perhaps only the hooks – 311 churns them out at a deal-with-the-devil
level of consistency.
So what’s this Uplifter album, with its relentlessly sunny outlook? Could it be perfectly timed not
only to coincide with the nascent Obama era, but also serve as a tonic to the
collapse of the economy? To be sure, frontman Nick Hexum — who sounds more
like a member of They Might Be Giants the older he gets — fancies himself a
political activist. But Uplifter is
more like the product of a band with very little to say (if it ever had
anything). That is, the decision to be positive wasn’t much of a decision at
all. “One song could end a war,” Hexum sings during the slap-bass
breakdown of “It’s Alright.” That sentiment may be true. But that
song is certainly not a war-ender.
The hooks do deserve unqualified respect at times, though: Hexum and
squeaky-voiced rapper/singer S.A. Martinez are impossible to shake during the
harmonies of “Hey You” and “Never Ending Summer” (even if
both tracks are as lyrically simplistic as their titles); the chorus of
“Daisy Cutter” is an irrefutable mix of quasi-operatic power and
old-fashioned kissy-kissy sincerity; and “Too Much Too Fast” is a
downright jaunty little pop song.
Fear not, though. The clunkers on Uplifter are as unintentionally comic as ever. “Mix It Up” is about as leaden
as Jamaican-influenced music can possibly be, and both “India Ink”
and “Something Out Of Nothing” are deadly in combining faux-macho
verses with nice-guy choruses. That template should’ve been destroyed at the
end of the ’90s; these days, it’s just cringe-worthy.
Standout Tracks: “Hey
You,” “Daisy Cutter” JOE WARMINSKY