Sound — 5
"Five Crooked Lines" is album number five from Canadian alt-rock group Finger Eleven. With their previous releases being considered to be heavily influenced by the current iteration of the likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Franz Ferdinand, "Five Crooked Lines" has some significantly different influence throughout.
Now, the claim about the Chili Peppers comparison isn't unfounded: the band's most popular single is "Paralyzer," an unabashed funk driven yet poppish alt-rock track that is the most negative of indicators for a complete ship jump.
"Five Crooked Lines" is a slight move away from that era. There's a lot of very pre-'90s rock and metal influence that permeates the stronger parts of the album. "Save Your Breath" is an unrepentant Iron Maiden riff in a different outfit, but with the kind of grimy rawness of the era that you'll be hard pressed to find in this day and age of electronic-everything. "Gods of Speed" forces one to instantly think of the iconic "Immigrant Song" and is one of the stronger tracks on the album. There's even 7 minute epic "Come On, Oblivion" that delves into Pink Floydian territory with its soundscape introduction and comfortable diversity during its length.
These plus points are far from a saving grace.
"Wolves and Doors" doesn't even feel like this band wrote it. The Chili Pepper tag is going to be stuck on this thing forever, a really simple and blandly crafted throwaway track which then infects the rest of the album with its style.
Other inane and anesthetizing tracks like the title track, "Not Going to Be Afraid" and "Blackout Song" are instant skips, bearing no relation to the stronger first half of this album. In fact, if it weren't for the vocalists familiar voice and the mix, these all could be from a different album, or different band entirely. There's so little identity to this album, even the good songs feel too different and mish-mashed from other places to make this a good, strong collective record.
Production and mix wise, there's some turn around. The recording feels authentic in the sense that all the instruments feel alive and real, the mix is a bit clamoured from said recording but not enough to make it an uncomfortable listen.
Lyrics — 6
Scott Anderson has been going strong with the band ever since they had the self-awareness to call themselves Rainbow Butt Monkeys (no, I'm not making that up), and his voice feels nicely well seasoned. He's not the most accomplished vocalist you'll have heard, but the written melody lines and harmonies meld in a nice way. Lets just ignore that his overall tone is a softer version of David Draiman (I mean, they're both pretty bald now so they could be the same person for all we know. Conspiracyyyyy). Thankfully, his rhythmic and cadence variance is much less limited than Draiman's.
Oddly enough, he somehow manages to make his vocal style work with all the various styles of track on this album, even if he doesn't attempt to change it in any way.
Lyrically, there is a little bit of depth lacking in these themes. "Criminal," for instance, is rather upfront explanation that states "But you caught my eye like a criminal" and that line alone sums up the song in it's entirety. Honestly, there's not a lot else to comment on here. Even "Come On, Oblivion" follows the same theme as other songs like "Save Your Breath" and "Wolves and Doors," one about "trying to overcome your struggles" in as general a way as possible.
Overall Impression — 5
"Five Crooked Lines" is not a completely avoidable album, but it's nothing to get that excited about. Between padded, poppy parent friendly alt-rock, there's a few trips to sharper influences but then again, these are influences and nothing uniquely original from Finger Eleven as song-writers. These few songs may be pretty alright for some, but they can't save an entire albums worth of middle-of-the-road safety.
The strongest tracks could potentially be worth your time.
Songs to look out for: "Gods of Speed," "Save Your Breath," "Come On, Oblivion," "Lost for Words," "A New Forever."