Album Review: 311 – Uplifter

[Volcano; 2009]

Let me just get this out of the way up front: More like “Come Unoriginal.”

I’ve been reviewing music for a few years now, and regardless of the quality of the CD I’m discussing, I try to give every record a good shot. To give a fair assessment of an album, I feel like I have to spin it at least a few times before I come to any conclusions.

But as I listened to 311’s rap-rock retread Uplifter for the first, fifth, fourteenth times, I found myself struggling to come up with anything to say that I couldn’t have said months before I had heard it at all or in fact anything I couldn’t have said about the band when they were churning out identical tunes a decade or two ago. Part of me considered just copying and pasting a review of 311’s 1995 self-titled breakthough.

Maybe that was a bit harsh, but let me tell you why negative music reviews always seem especially acerbic. Music critics are always, first and foremost, music fans. Some call themselves aficionados or audiophiles, but regardless, they enjoy listening to music. So when they’re tasked with reviewing a garbage record and are forced to listen to it whole bunch in lieu of something they like, that bile inevitably seeps into the review.

For the last week, I’ve had to listen to 311.

Despite a layoff since 2005’s Don’t Tread on Me, 311 are still holding fast to the formula that got them where they are: a lilting reggae rhythm with a crunchy metal center. Throw in some slap bass, add some shitty lyrics (“I drink you in with a sip/But I really want to chug“—seriously?), and call it a day. Why the hell did this take four years?

Occasionally, there are some minor stylistic exceptions to the rule. “My Heart Sings” is an uncharacteristically light affair, “Get Down” is straight up hip-hop, and “Golden Sunlight” finishes up as something of a pop-punk number. Ultimately, though, Uplifter never once strays from that fun-in-the-sun pseudo-insouciance.

When your music is mostly innocuous to begin with, the status quo won’t get you very far, and this is why Uplifter fails: no risks, no statement, no ambition whatsoever. It’s an album that never needed to be made—or, for that matter, heard.