Capricorn Records, 1997
REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/13/1997
311 is the Ed Wood of the alternative world. Critics hate 'em, and after listening to Transistor, I can see why. But their enthusiasm for what they're doing is contagious. They're never going to be in the same realm as the Red Hot Chili Peppers or even Rancid, but their love for music is as strong as their love for pot, for which they even thank in their liner notes.
No doubt Transistor is a fine soundtrack for the 1990s Dorm Nation. Fraternities and dorm hallways boom "Prisoner" and "Rub A Dub" from their speakers, but for people with even a limited music background, their lyrics are as dumb as a "Suddenly Susan" script and their songs have an annoying tendency to end unexpectedly.
Some of their earlier releases such as Music and Grassroots featured a band who was trying to find their voice in a mix of punk, funk and rap. With a budget, Transistor shows the band still hasn't found what it's looking for. Dave Matthews and Blues Traveler have far better chops, the weakest tracks of the Beastie Boys can eclipse most material on Transistor and for funk...well...if you haven't heard any material from George Clinton or Prince, go outside and start beating yourself over the head with a couple of good sized rocks, now.
Some experiments actually pay off on Transistor. The opening title track and "Prisoner" provide a nice, smooth groove that hints at a great jammin' album to come. However, the Iron Maiden-like guitar intro to "Beautiful Disaster" throws the album way off track.
As for the lyrics, well, you don't really listen to 311 to approach enlightenment, even though they make plenty of references to Babylon and goddesses. However, you can tell how stoned the band was recording this because half of the lyrics look like they came from the fortune cookies they ate when they had the munchies.
"Stick to the way you rock/it just do it real slow."("Rub A Dub") "Wanna take it further/let's take that funk further." ("No Control") "And when the kind consciousness come unto you/you will know and it won't stop." ("Inner Light Spectrum") Sorry, haven't achieved enlightenment yet, dudes.
Maybe if the album was shorter, the pain would have been less. Clocking in at about 70 minutes, this ranks up with one of the most painful, enduring moments of this year. Watching close-ups of Robin's crotch in Batman And Robin and seeing Nicolas Cage run in slow motion for what seemed like half of Con Air were the other two exercises in hell this year. Seeing all of Alien Resurrection was the most difficult to endure, but I digress.
Writing on a music critic site, I realize that critics can be wrong. Rush, one of the most critically reviled groups in history, has produced some damn good work. But 311 is another sad staple in the current crop of bands that try to merge different styles in favor of a bigger paycheck. Sugar Ray, Reel Big Fish and Smash Mouth are other offenders. Transistor is probably the most ambitious album of the bunch, so it won't get a F in my book. Still, after listening to the entire album, I am not filled with the pseudo-mystical images that the band tries to put in your head. Instead, I get this image of Kathie Lee Gifford pumping this album into the PA systems in sweatshops all over the world.