Capricorn Records, 1999
REVIEW BY: Eric Atwell
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/16/2000
This one didn't leave my CD player for a long while. I think I've become a bald faced craven fan of 311's music. When I went to the concert promoting this album I realized I'm also one of the most aged 311 fans. Jeez, how many clone-like frat boys and overly made up girls can you pack into Nissan Pavilion? I'm only 27, for God's sake! I felt as though the fact I graduated college and was no longer living a ramen filled life was looked upon with hearty suspicion by the MTV styled denizens. If I see one more tongue ring...
The concert was astounding. It somehow impressed me despite the incredible hangover I acquired through my bachelor party the night before. But the show was not as cool as the album itself. After 10 years, five albums, tons of touring, and scads of puzzled (if not angry) music critics, 311 has garnered itself quite the rock acumen. This album sounds great.
Soundsystem is only the latest encapsulation of the 311 sound. This sound is ever-shifting, something especially apparent if you compare Soundsystem to Transistor, their 1997 release. Not all the songs are great, but most are good and contain the requisite heaviness I respect. As with any 311 release, you must be in it for the music since the lyrics are a bit silly; however, 311 are far more potent musically, and at least less lame lyrically, than any of the current so-called rap-metal bands.
Featuring a mélange of grooves, guitar tones, styles, and exclamation points, Soundsystem is the second best rock album I've heard this year. First place goes to Rage Against The Machine and The Battle Of Los Angeles - a stunning tribute to innovation in rock, even if they are a bunch of elitist, pinko-commie scumbags.
311 songs like "Large In The Margin", "Sever", and "Mindspin" capitalize on the band's flowing metallic grooves. I love the way guitar player Tim Mahoney pulls off this proto-glam shit and makes it sound new. I think what moves me is the octave divider (a guitar effect that divides the guitar note in two, with the second tone an octave lower than the original note) creating that bottomless crunch. Couple this effect with a seven string guitar and you have some heavy doo-doo.
While "Strong All Along" contains elements of afterschool special music, it's a really positive tune about stone cold chillin' on a nice day. I think. Anyway, 311 stretches out and uses a nice two guitar harmony attack to mimic reggae horns and such (though a lot of times, as on Transistor's "Beautiful Disaster", this method ends up with more of a Judas Priest thing going on).
"Flowing" is the one track on the album I'm not fond of. Sounds like 311 copped the verse from Green Day and the bridge from their earlier album Grassroots. Additionally, I'm guessing most listeners will be turned off by the dub fantasy of the Bad Brains' "Leaving Babylon", but I find it to be a nice culmination of the dub sound they experimented with on Transistor. And "Life's Not A Race", while throwing some great guitar tidbits our way, is too much of a lick ass Santana tribute.
And when it gets to the sweet "Black Magic Woman" breakdown, a great groove that gives a slobbery nod to Carlos Santana, the band cuts it far too short. Oh well. Haven't we had enough Santana for a while? When a rock star starts a new shoe line in the name of activism, I think the love affair is over. He's just another red if you ask me.
If you have a subwoofer tied to your soundsystem, this album is a great way to hear that puppy. I'm not kidding when I say Soundsystem is an exquisite recording. It kicks ass. 311 is one of the few rock bands out there doing it out of love. You may not dig the sound, but they mean it. Plus, it's great to listen to guys so uncynical. Maybe it's their midwest founding, but I can't think of another band this side of CCM so positive, yet uncheesy.