Staind, "Chapter V"
Ever since the introduction of an acoustic guitar on Staind's second album, "Break The Cycle," it should have been recognized that this post-grunge band was to continue using a similar format in recording their new music.
Their Alice In Chains influence has been evident throughout their career with singer Aaron Lewis' somber melancholy and the band's slow and heavy formula in their songwriting, but it is even more apparent on their fifth album.
On Staind's previous albums, their primary focus was to keep the music balanced with Lewis woebegone lyrics, which consequently gave their sound a very muddy and sad overtone. However, after a band sells a couple million albums and the flow starts coming in, sadness is often replaced with reason from fans.
From there, it is only natural for the stress of the band member's pre-fame life to gradually dissipate. Besides the fame, Lewis recently saw the arrival of his second daughter and in the world of heavy music children will indefinitely make you a softer human being. (Think: Eminem and daughter Hailie as well as Metallica's James Hetfield and his daughter's ballet lessons.)
Lead guitarist Mike Mushok had previously pioneered a baritone electric guitar that signified their chunky sound, but on "Chapter V," Mushok has traded the lowly instrument with one of more classic tone: a Fender stratacaster.
The guitar notes are clearer and the use of harmonics and guitar solos from Mushok have redefined Staind's once close-to-droning sound. Many songs open up with Lewis' acoustic picking and Mushok's screaming high notes that would make Alice In Chain's Jerry Cantrell smile at his influence.
Their first single is a predictable, radio-friendly love song entitled "Right Here." The song is propelled by Lewis' signature acoustic balladry and is accompanied by Mushok's chugging metal chorus, heavy bass notes and steady drum beat that has kept Staind from drifting too far from their tried and true sound.
"King Of All Excuses" has hardcore punch relevant to their material on their first album "Dysfuction," and "Paper Jesus" is easily the most aggressive song on "V" and chants the demand to "burn your paper Jesus and own the things you do."
The song "Devil" is a wonderfully cool acoustic piece telling a story of how people can think themselves to be evil after the breaking of a relationship and in the process of starting a new and better one.
Lewis' wife and daughters seem to be his muse in the songs "Right Here" and "Everything Changes."
"Everything Changes," has some sensitive piano, backing up the harmonizing guitars and Lewis confesses, "I am the mess you chose/the closet you can't close/the devil in you I suppose."
For a band that survived the post-grunge scene and the cloudiness of the Nu-metal attempt, it seems they have finally distanced themselves from the rest of modern rock flock.
Right off, the phrase "Don't Tread On Me" is about as played out and cliched as "Don't Mess With Texas."
That said, such phrases, which wish to inspire some sort of self-arrogance should be left out entirely from a band that has had nearly a dozen albums and fans from all over the world. (The album's name sounds like a reject album from Lynyrd Skynyrd.) In other words, unoriginality is a let down for listeners who expect a little bit more from a band that have been a part of their lives from when they were just beginning their teenage years.
Whereas there are a few really worthwhile tracks on "Don't Tread On Me," 311 for the most part does not sound like they have any sort of high anger or happiness to fuel a single jam on the album. The songs "Thank Your Lucky Stars" and "Frolic Room" are too set up for radio play and the borderline goofy-jazz working of the song "Waiting" is flat out annoying.
It definitely is a groove-worthy album, but for the big fans, with the lack of funk and punk that got 311 started back in the day, there hardly seems any steam for this release of filler and b-side songs.
And why no more funk? That is what made 311 fun. Sure "Amber" and 311's Cure cover of "Love Song" were phenomenal, sandy beach make-out anthems, but on the song "Speak Easy," it seems that 311 are trying too hard to recreate those pins and needles feeling that "Amber" and "Love Song" initiated.
The steal drums and reggae guitar-work in "Speak Easy" are cool approaches in music diversity but seem less sincere – the song makes a listener feel as if they are in a concrete building studio rather than on the beach listening to waves crashing at their toes.
Oh, but don't think that 311 have failed; they've just gotten lazy. The best song on the album is a punky and high-energy riff-roller called "It's Getting OK Now." The song has a biting riff similar to their classic "Homebrew," and the drums keep the heads bouncing and the legs moving. It is a song that will have the same credibility as "Beautiful Disaster" if 311 are wise enough to release it as a single.
"Getting Through To Her" is a cool acoustic run about a girl with rather minor insecurities and their single "Don't Tread On Me" actually creates a fun atmosphere with its switching back and forth between heavy and soft, and work great being part-reggae, part-Latin and part-hardcore.
"Solar Flare" reflects 311's beefier side and "Long For The Flowers" is a tight hardcore jam that works well to cover up their soft-side follies on the album. Fans should no doubt give this a run and add it to their collection, but as for attracting new fans, there will be no one rushing into the record store to discover these alternative kings.