Sound — 4
For those of us who hoped that the arrival of The Illusion of Progress would bring with it the Staind of old, an ode to the Dysfunction days, and a resurrection of the sound that many of us initially fell in love with, that day is not today, and judging by the sound of The Illusion of Progress, it looks as though that day will never come. Despite how we may wish to reverse time, have some say in the matter, or what have you, it has seemed(for quite some time now) that the Staind of years past was becoming just that, the past. As far back as 2003's 14 Shades of Grey, the signs of dwindle and decay were evident, and have become increasingly more noticeable in every follow-up album since, (present album included) leading many(including myself) to speculate that this decay of sorts was not a question of if, but when, and it feels as though the arrival of The Illusion of Progress cements the idea that that time is now. Before I go any further however, let me be clear here, in terms of decay, I am in no way referencing the band themselves or questioning their unity, because evidently they seem to be going as strong as ever, I am referencing their drastic change in sound over the years, and in essence, the "decay" of the sound of old. Another thing that I want to make clear is that their new sound is not neccessarily horrible, it will no doubt gain them a wider audience, but the reality is that along with the prospect gaining potential new fans, there is also the risk of losing old ones. With that said, speaking as an older fan (since the Dysfunction days), it seems as though all of our dreams of seeing a resurgence of the Staind of old will never be realized(although there will always be a part of me that wll hope) and will remain instead a pleading cry that falls upon deaf ears, an ideal that will never be attained, a yearning that will never be satisfied, and a hope that will never be fulfilled. As far as the music itself is concerned, personally, I found this area of the album to be a complete and utter letdown, but again, this is entirely dependent upon perspective, it drives at the very heart of the new fan/old fan debate, but since I am the one writing this review, I will state my impressions and leave any further debate for later discussion. Let me begin here with the music itself, first of all, the most obvious aspect being the fact that each and every song was catered to an incredibly grueling(and at times unbearable) slow tempo, so much so that the entire album consists of nothing more then what seems like poppy ballads. Whilst I was sitting and listening to the album, I kept hoping against hope that perhaps, just perhaps, the next track would deliver with the heavily distorted guitars of old and rid me of the endless swarm of radio friendly ballads that I was constantly being bombarded with. With every progressing track and consequently, every progressing disappointment, the realization dawned on me as I was nearing the end of the album that the track that I had been waiting for may never come, and to my utter horror, it never did. To put this into perspective here, there were times as I was listening to this album that I literally had to look at the album cover that lay beside me to make sure that it was in fact Staind that I was listening to, and even as I looked at my album cover for confirmation that it was in fact Staind, I was still in utter disbelief, and frankly, I still am. The change in sound that is present on this album is so incredibly drastic that it seems almost unfathomable, even Mike Mushok's attempts at inserting intricate guitar parts and solos seems completely out of place in the songs in which they are played. Though it could be seen as a valiant attempt by Mushok, the extra guitar work seems completely uncharacteristic of him and the sound that he has created over the years, and ultimately, it just doesn't seem to fit in the overall scheme of things. However, it does not end there, to me, the biggest shocker comes towards the end of the album, in which gospel sounding backing vocals are present, which is not to say that I disrespect gospel music and it's fans, but never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine such vocals making their way onto a Staind track, and the combination of the two just doesn't work what'soever.
Lyrics — 8
In terms of lyrical content, Aaron Lewis is arguably one of the most, if not the most giften and influential lyricists of this generation, and in that regard, he does not dissapoint. His lyrics are delivered in the Aaron Lewis fashion that many of us have become accustomed to, from the heart, and with great depth, meaning, and significance. And even though one may not be very fond of the band's latest effort, one cannot deny the lyrical genius that Aaron Lewis is. As far as lyrics themselves are concerned, there does seem to be a concious effort to keep with the trend of albums past (14 Shades, Chapter V) which is to take the negative lyrics of old, and transform them, such that they keep their original essence, but at the same time, reflect and conjure thoughts and images of a significantly more positive light, and nowhere is this trend more evident then on this album. Take for example, the album's opening track "This Is It" in which Aaron sings: "This is it, and it fits, and it feels like this is good enough for me, could it be that the grass is always green" or on the track "Tangled Up In You" in which Aaron sings: "You're the fire that warms me when I'm cold, You're the hand I have to hold as I grow old, You're the shore when I am lost at sea, You're the only thing that I like about me" As is visibly clear in these short excerpts, there exists a distinct departure from the angrier, angst-driven lyrics of old, and whether one sees this departure as growth, or an attempt to appeal to a more mainstream audience, that issue is entirely up for debate here, though, regardless of which side of the fence you are on, there is no denying the fact that the lyrics themselves posses a much more positive outlook then was present on previous albums.
Overall Impression — 5
With regard to my overall impressions of The Illusion of Progress, it seems to be rather one sided, and even that is a tremendous understatement, it is rapidly shaping up to be one of those things that you either love or hate, with no middleground existing between the two. Though, this is not entirely unexpected, with such a drastic change in sound as this, it is bound to thrill some, while at the same time, alienate others, and that decision, with regard to where one stands, is completely up to the individual making that distinction. And with that said, this is where I shall leave it, because though I do not particularly approve of the musical direction that Staind has taken, there is no denying the impact that their earlier material has had on me, and the influence that this band has had on my life over the past decade, and regardless of what happens, they will always have my respect. With that said, if this album were lost/stolen, I would not buy it again. And as a final note, I feel as though the title of this album poses a very interesting question, which is: Is The Illusion Of Progress, quite literally, an illusion of progress? You decide.