This review will be a fun one for me. 311 was a band that I was really into during high school, but mostly haven’t bothered with since. The band got big in the 90’s during the start of both nu metal and modern reggae rock/ska, and has been going strong since. While there have been some INCREDIBLY cringey acts to come out of both of those styles, I’ve always respected 311 for both their incredible musicianship and some genuinely great songs (“I’ll Be Here While”, “Beyond the Gray Sky”). However, the band is now probably best known either for “Amber” or an ongoing investigation. But memes and 90’s music phases aside, how does the band sound 31 years and 13 albums into their career on Voyager?
This album is very diverse, which at least means you’ll never get bored listening to it. On “Dream State”, the highlight of the album, the band
ventures voyages into proggier territories. The chorus is on another level, with its expansive chords and soft bed of synths. Vocalists Nick Hexum and SA sound their best when they harmonize, and they make great use of that strength on this track. 311 takes a stab at a more jam band sound on “What The?!”, and it works really well (despite the negative connotation behind the phrase “jam band”). The last minute of the track in particular is awesome. The band plays this cool syncopated version of the chorus and then breaks out into a jam led by the excellent snare work of drummer Chad Sexton. I can excuse what are arguably the worst lines on this album (“Smokin’ that good weed / Getting high, we are stoners / On a highway with all of our friends / And with some loners”) because the rest of the song is strong enough to hold up. “Charge It Up” is another song where the band really nails it in the last minute or so. They take a left turn from a triumphant riff into this sick, hypnotic stoner rock riff.
Where this album fails is in the sorry attempts at creating pop hits. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some basement-dwelling metal elitist who hates all things pop (I’m writing this from my living room, thank you), but these songs come off as disingenuous. It feels like the band took an analytical approach at writing these songs rather than just trying to make fun music. The most blatant offender is the song “Good Feeling”. This song uses every pop cliché you could think of from the past 10 years. I could feel my eyes roll into the back of my skull the moment the song faded in, and I may be permanently scarred by that annoyingly repetitive chorus. This song feels like it was hand-tailored to be put in the background of some stupid commercial for some store’s dumbass “summer savings event.”
“Dodging Raindrops” features bass drops in its chorus that sound 8 years behind the times, as well as some super cringey bars from Nick Hexum in the second verse. Hexum also decides to bring out a white guy reggae voice on “Lucid Dreams” for some reason. This song is otherwise their best attempt at a pop hit, but still not great. “Born to Live” starts off great with P-Nut’s slap bass playing, but the song stumbles steadily downhill from there, with Hexum rapping about his daughters and a forced “O-E-A-O” singalong part. Only after listening to the album a few times did I learn that these 4 songs were done with a different producer than the rest of the album, which may help explain the misguided direction the band took on these tracks.
The other songs on the album all fall on to various places on the okayness spectrum. In a lot of cases, these songs have one or more great aspects, but are bogged down by one terrible part. For example, there’s this awesome chunky riff in the first chorus of “Crossfire”, but I could do without Nick Hexum’s rapping and SA’s ad libs. “Space and Time” starts off great with this cool wah guitar line that’s gradually panned back and forth. The rest of the band builds on this motif, and the song progresses nicely until SA’s rap verse, which feels out of place and kills the vibe of the song. “Better Space” is an otherwise solid song, but for some reason the band decided to add these vocoder breaks that sound like a vocaloid of Tom DeLonge. There is some solid riffage on “Rolling Through” (including one riff that sounds like “Welcome to the Jungle”), but the song is unremarkable otherwise.
On Voyager, 311 continues to experiment with their sound, but to mixed results. The album art is pretty awesome – it’s just a shame that the album as a whole didn’t live up to it. Despite some of the atrocities on this thing, there’s still a handful of great songs on here. As a whole though, I don’t see this album appealing to anyone who isn’t already a 311 fan.
Best Tracks: Dream State, Charge It Up, What The?!
Weakest Tracks: Good Feeling, Born to Live, Dodging Raindrops, Lucid Dreams
Overall Score: C