Sound — 9
In terms of production and overall sound, this album sounds more or less like the next step in evolution from From Chaos and Evolver. It's Saint and 311 paired up again, so no surprise there. There aren't quite as many overdubs and production flourishes, but other than that it's more of the same. In terms of the actual music, however, there's a bit of a directional shift from their previous two albums. Nick Hexum delivered on his promise to bring the "funky reggae" rather than the smooth Amber-style reggae and rap-rock of the previous releases. Even the rock songs are more upbeat than usual so the whole album flows nicely(although transitioning from Solar Flare to Waiting was a bit extreme). The songwriting is quite possibly the best it's ever been: out of nowhere, SA has come out as a great songwriter. In fact, his songs are highlights of the album. He's taken a bit of the pressure off of Nick, and it shows. 01. Don't Tread On Me - definetely funky reggae. It's a great track with interesting lyrics and good vocal harmonies, and a cool breakdown. Everyone's heard this track by now. 02. Thank Your Lucky Stars - great rock song, upbeat music and upbeat message. The melody is cool, and when I first heard them break into the "ask me I'm not blind..." part I was blown away. Thumbs up. 03. Frolic Room - catchy, fun, and the "what are we celebrating?" line makes it a good party anthem. Upbeat rock similar to the previous song. 04. Speak Easy - another reggae song, this one's pretty relaxed. The vocal harmonies in this song (and all the other songs, really) make it almost impossible not to sing along. 05. Solar Flare - super-heavy rap-rock. In my opinion, Tim, Chad, and P-Nut do a good job of making this song heavy, and Nick and SA try a bit too hard to emphasize parts that are already groove-heavy. I would have liked to hear a faster, more relaxed rap, but that's just me. Everybody writes political lyrics these days, but these guys do a good job of making them relatable and making good points that make you think. 06. Waiting - I hate this song. The album out-take, "Little Brother" is a hell of a lot better so you can tell they just put this on here for diversity's sake. It's bouncy, but in an annoying way. The guitar solo is great though, so if your in that kind of a mood it can make the track worth hearing. 07. Long For The Flowers - great rock song. The lyrics certainly aren't album standouts, but that's objective anyway. In terms of instrumentals this song kicks a whole lot of ass. The breakdown and resulting guitar solo is pulled off perfectly by Tim Mahoney, whose always been a great lead player. 08. Getting Through To Her - I like that last reviewer's comment: a happy song about sexual abuse is a bit odd. Still, SA's looking at things from his point of view, trying to comfort a victim of this crime who he loves. Non-standard lyrical stuff but it works, and the riff during the verse is really cool. SA's writing skills have been proven. 09. Whiskey And Wine - another great SA song, although the highlight is really Nick's reggae breakdown in the middle. It's a slower song, but fortunately there's really nothing on this album like the mid-album nap time of "Beyond the Gray Sky" and "Seems Uncertain" from Evolver. It definetely holds your interest. 10. It's Getting Ok Now - the third and final SA track is a fast, hard rocker that has an extremely catchy chorus. The bridge sounds like Tim Mahoney's tribute to Dimebag, so no problems there. He even does that signature Dimebag distortion squeal. 11. There's Always An Excuse - long album-ender like on Evolver. It's cool and catchy, but I usually can't bring myself to listen to the whole thing. It's quite different from the rest of the album. The beginning is some good reggae however. A lot of people like 311's new direction, some don't. Either way, SA and Nick make a great songwriting duo. This is the most fresh and interesting album since Grassroots.
Lyrics — 8
Mostly typical 311 fair. THe stay positive message is still broadcasted at every opportunity. Still, they are getting better and the songs are more direct, without any of Nick's bad rapping. There are even some totally unique moments lyrically like Getting Through to Her and Whiskey and Wine.
Overall Impression — 10
Probably tied with Grassroots as the best 311 album, but everyone has their own opinion on that subject. After the uncertainty and monotony of the last album, this is definetely a step in the right direction. I bought this album the day it came out, and I'd do it again.