Released: June 2nd, 2009
Reviewed by Evelyn Miska
311 is one of those bands that a lot of people probably thought had disappeared sometime in the 1990s. Sure, they’ve had a few popular radio hits over the course of their history, but is there really still a place for pop-rock-reggae in the world? While there are a few guilty pleasure type songs on Uplifter, the band’s ninth studio release, there are also some cringe-worthy moments. It’s tough to say how much of an audience is still out there for 311, but as long as there are fraternity boys wearing white baseball caps, there will probably be fans of 311.
“Hey You” immediately brings in that reggae influence that 311 is well known for, though mostly on the verses. The chorus makes an attempt to be heavier but when the lyrics are “hey you, I gotta tell you my longtime friend, I think of all the years you saw me through tears and the good times we spent,” its a bit tough to take seriously. The song has a feel-good theme, but may be a bit too cheesy for the average listener. “Mix It Up” also attempts this balance, with an intense, guitar-shredding intro that segues into a very light, pleasant sounding verse with that reggae beat again.
“Golden Sunlight” does take a different approach with a soft, almost dreamy quality. It actually would be rather easy to make the mistake and think the song was by a different band since the band forgoes their usual reggae influences. Will it be a surefire hit? Not necessarily, but in this mix it does stand out and proves that the band can do more than just their usual. “Daisy Cutter” finds a good balance between the band’s usual and the changes they made on “Golden Sunlight.” It has a bit more verve to it than “Golden Sunlight” but pulls in enough of their signature sound that you could probably figure out who wrote the song. Unlike some of the other tracks on Uplifter this is a song that is likely to work in a live venue as well as through your stereo.
Unfortunately, the album moves back to 311’s typical sound too often. “Never Ending Summer” and “Jackpot” could be just about any other 311 song. The band does veer into much heavier territory than casual listeners might expect, but those few changes aren’t quite enough to save the album. For as entertaning as some of their songs can be, Uplifter just doesn’t do enough that’s new and interesting for it to work.
The problem with many of the songs on Uplifter is that while the songs may be fun at a live show, they need that energy to really succeed. The album is too clean, too pristine and, as a result, the songs sound a bit odd. It’s clear that 311 was thinking about how good they’d sound live, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to a recorded studio album.