Most people who know me understand I am a huge 311 fan. I’ve been to approximately 15 concerts, own numerous band clothing, have a sticker on my car and some of my usernames have “311” in it somewhere.
Sad, I know.
As a fan since the early ‘90s I was disappointed to hear their latest album “Mosaic.” With album art featuring pictures submitted by fans, this album appears to be a “thank you” to the fans over the years. However, the songs sound like a “thank you” to everyone who jumped on board after “Amber” hit the charts.
If you’re an old-school 311 fan who loves the edgy, heavy, rap/rock sound, don’t even bother. This album is super poppy and focuses on the “Amber” template that propelled the band back into the mainstream after the turn of the century, i.e. chill, quasi-reggae, suburban.
311 are the really cool, party animal stoner we knew in college who has since settled down with a family, white-collar job and smokes pot a few times a year when the kids are with his parents, but still think he’s cool and hip even though his kids are embarrassed by the forced attempts.
311 have gone from a band featured on rock/alt rock stations to songs featured on adult contemporary stations soccer moms listen to at the store while trying to find food that is GMO- and gluten-free.
Nearly every song on “Mosaic” was co-written by one of the two producers, Scotch Ralston (“Transistor,” “Soundsystem”) and John Feldmann (Blink 182, Reel Big Fish’s “Turn the Radio Off,” Goldfinger, Good Charlotte). On “Transistor” and “Soundsystem,” writing credits are almost exclusively to the band members.
Albums for 311 began introducing writing credits to producers with Ralston in nearly every song in “Stereolithic,” an album that went almost completely unnoticed by everyone, including 311 fans.
“Mosaic” is full of songs that cannot decide what it wants to be or sound like. Hexum has almost completely taken over vocal duties while the amazing rhythm section of P-Nut and Chad Sexton takes a backseat to forced melodic vocals, deviating from the formula that made them popular in 90s: rap/rock vocals with a loud funk bass and impressive drumming.
CLIFF NOTE: 311 is trying to blend new-school 311 sound with old-school 311 sound and fail miserably. A lot of sounds incorrectly placed within songs that don’t mesh well. Instead of a blend resulting in a smoothie we’re left some chunky fluid-like substance.
Here’s a breakdown of the album, track by track:
Too Much To Think:
Nick Hexum is back to thinking he can sing melodically. As noted above, this harks back to the “Amber” formula that propelled them back into the mainstream, i.e. Jack Johnson, white people reggae, which is why it’s not surprising this is the first single to be released.
Nick Hexum, a white guy from Nebraska, sounds like a white guy from Nebraska trying to sound like a reggae singer. However, this is more funk/rock, less pop in this song. Halfway in, “Wildfire” makes a weird 180 turn into some weird bridge with minor chords. At 5:28, this is really two different songs with two different sounds.
The Night Is Young:
Another weird mixture of sounds starting with a weird, classical-inspired melody before switching to fuzz rock and reverting back to reggae-guitar with classical melody that highlights how much Hexum struggles to sing melodically.
Standard white people, pop reggae. If you liked “Amber,’ you’ll dig this song.
Starts with heavy distortion and S.A. doing some anger-driven rapping. Sounds more old-school 311 than anything else so far. About 35 seconds into it, the songs reverts to a very poppy refrain, then back to Hexum doing some heavy rapping. Back to poppy refrain. Heavy or poppy? This song cannot decide what it wants to be. Sounds like some new butt-rock song that you would hear on your local rock station if the vocals were a bit grittier.
More white people reggae at the beginning. At about the 1:00 mark some weird, lazy rapping by Hexum that would get thrown in the trash bin if it were a single by a debut band trying to score a record deal.
Inside Our Home:
Highlights Hexum’s very limited vocal range as he strains to hit those high notes. More “Amber” shit.
‘Til the City’s On Fire:
A perfect song for the next tween, summer movie. Super poppy and can easily have a techno remix. Nice dance club summer song.
Another supper poppy with distorted guitar 180 out of nowhere and back to poppy. Oh wait! There’s S.A. all of a sudden, forgot he was in the band by this point in the album. Just like “Wildfire,” this song is nearly 5:30 and should really be two separate songs. The part at 3:30 sounds something much closer to classic 311. Get through the beginning and this is the perfect song for old-school fans.
Very “Beautiful Disaster” like guitar at beginning. Horns have been added to this number and a return to heavy guitar. P-Nut’s skills are finally featured with a cool bass line. Very much the 311 most are familiar with. Probably translates very well live.
Places That the Mind Goes
Ballad complete with porn guitar. Make some babies with this song. Perfect for a movie soundtrack needing a song for a romantic sex scene.
Face in the Wind
Classic S.A. rap and fuzz guitar. Classic unforced Hexum melodies. Sexton drum skills finally featured. Another song that will probably be great live. Ending is weird though.
Did they save the older sounding stuff for the end, because this is another song more reminiscent of a pre-Evolver 311. The refrain is very much an“American Pie,” teen summer movie soundtrack.
Days of ‘88
Starts off like something from ’88 311…then the melody kicks in…very poppy. Nice to hear a song featuring S.A. rather than the Hexum-saturated songs in the album. This song would work with edgier lyrics/melody. Another attempt to blend this pop sound they are trying to achieve and heavier music.
One and the Same
Not sure what this song is trying to be: Super edgy 311 or Good Charlotte-esque pop-rock.
Definition of “syntax error”: “A character or string incorrectly placed in a command or instruction that causes a failure in execution.” Perhaps a good title summing up this album.
On a Roll
Modern alt rock anthem chant at the beginning. A song grateful for where they’re at and where they are going. This song is for them and is kind of a hacky way to end an album.
Just because I hate this album doesn’t mean I hate 311. I’ll be going to my 16th or so concert in three days and cannot wait. I became a 311 in the early-90s because I like that kind of sound. Since then, the band has moved into a different direction that doesn’t jive with my musical tastes.
311 need to focus on what exactly they want to be and stick with it. This blend of adult contemporary mixed with their old-school sound isn’t working. Musical talents of P-Nut and Sexton are being drowned out by subpar vocals in songs that are bipolar in their composition. Next time, 311 should keep the producer’s songwriting to a bare minimum and do what feels right to them.