311 Get Down with New Record
311 – Uplifter (Deluxe Edition)
June 2, 2009
Victim of Loudness War? Yes
One thing has to be said up front regarding Uplifter, the latest release from California’s 311: all hail Bob Rock. Without him behind the board, the album certainly wouldn’t have come out as stellar as it did, featuring some of the band’s best material in years. As he did with Metallica and Motley Crue (among many others) before, Rock has quite obviously pushed the band to explore the absolute heights of their varied talents and did not allow them to rest on their established laurels for one second. This, in turn, has left 311 sounding fresh, revitalized and ready to reclaim their place amongst the rock music elite.
The album opens with “Hey You,” a catchy pop-rock tune that was understandably chosen as the first single. Although the band stands on familiar ground here, the song does not once come off sounding stale or rote throughout its three minute length. Instead, the band sounds like its kicking off a new battle with a familiar cry, getting the listener ready for the determined assault that’s on the horizon. The next two tracks, “It’s Alright” and “Mix It Up,” continue along this same path, further preparing for what’s to come with concise and catchy rockers that will undoubtedly end up in steady rotation in the band’s live setlist.
“Golden Sunlight” is where 311 really takes off into their collaboration with Bob Rock. Never before has S.A. Martinez pushed his vocals so far and the result is amazing. It’s a trend that he continues throughout, both in the powerful lead vocals and expert background harmonies scattered over the course of the record. Bob Rock has always been known for his vocal focus and for his ability to dig out performances many singers didn’t realize they had in them and his work with S.A. Martinez is no exception. Where he once lingered in the background and added color to Nick Hexum’s always-spot-on lead singing, Martinez has now been pushed into the spotlight more often to a very positive result. In fact, Martinez becomes somewhat of the breakout star of Uplifter due largely in part to his strong and determined vocals and multi-layered harmonies.
This does not mean the rest of the band is overshadowed. As usual, 311 remains a group affair, with all members performing and contributing fairly equally. Lead singer/guitarist Nick Hexum, as usual, has come loaded for bear in terms of melodies (“India Ink,” “Never Ending Summer”), Tim Mahoney lays down some truly shimmering guitar parts (“Daisy Cutter,” “My Heart Sings”) and P-Nut and Chad Sexton are the ever-reliable-yet-thoroughly-intriguing rhythm section (“Golden Sunlight,” “Get Down”). Never once does any member stand down, giving the band a strength and focus they haven’t seen since 2001’s From Chaos.
Many people accuse Bob Rock of overproducing the band’s he works with, a complaint that might have merit given a cursory glance. After all, he does spend a great deal of time in the studio with a band, encouraging them to take several stabs at their part of the song until a near-perfect performance is achieved. He also tends to record drums with a heavy thump and kick and his guitars with numerous layers, giving them an arena-ready force. But ultimately these approaches strengthen the records they are used on and serve not to sterilize the record but to make it the best possible statement the band can make. In fact, Chad Sexton’s amazing drum abilities are only enhanced by Rock’s production and have rarely sounded better on record, which can also be said for Hexum and Mahoney’s guitars which have never sounded punchier or as grandiose.
The bottom line is that after a couple of somewhat lackluster releases (2003’s Evolver and 2005’s Don’t Tread On Me) and a subsequent extended break, 311 has returned with a record that is full of life and unquestionably returns them to the glory they had built for themselves from their 1993 debut, Music through the aforementioned From Chaos. One can only hope that Bob Rock remains tied to the band for their future releases (as he did for fifteen years with Metallica), as his contributions are undoubtedly what aided the most in putting the band back on the map. If you haven’t checked in with 311 in a while, now is the time to do so. You certainly won’t be disappointed.
– Ian Rice
To purchase 311’s Uplifter, please click here.
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