’s seventh album is self-titled, and you have to wonder if that’s a way for the alt-metal
band to announce that they’re getting back to basics. Returning to the angrier, more aggressive songs of their early career -- before they become pop stars thanks to ballads like “It’s Been Awhile” -- Staind
is a bracing change of pace after several albums dominated by lighter fare. The quartet (who saw longtime drummer Jon Wysocki exit the band
after recording the album) stay on the accessible side of things, but there’s a palpable edginess to these 10 tracks, which suggests that these were guys with something to prove.
A Frontman Who Can Tap Into the Universal
Staind’s secret weapon has long been frontman Aaron Lewis, who has an ability to deliver emotional vocal performances. Singing like a humble everyman, Lewis taps into universal sentiments about love and disillusionment that have helped make Staind multi-platinum stars, but his reliance on stripped-down acoustic numbers has opened the door to criticism that he’s either a wimp or pandering to his audience. Not surprisingly, then, the Lewis of Staind sounds like he’s got a chip on his shoulder, and it seems to enliven the whole band. Granted, his macho trash talk on “Wannabe” is awkward and forced -- these guys probably shouldn’t be doing diss tracks -- but for the most part he simply gets down to business and lets the songs speak for themselves.
Still Exploring Their Softer Side
This isn’t to say that Staind is entirely without mid-tempo numbers. The remorseful “Throw It All Away” would have fit just fine on recent Staind discs, but even here there’s a tension that wasn’t always present in their recent work. What’s easy to forget about “It’s Been Awhile” is that, while gentle musically, its grief and desolation were powerfully resonant. “Throw It All Away” seems to tap into the same vein of anxious uncertainty, which undercuts the slick sing-along nature of the track. Likewise, the romantic desperation of “The Bottom” echoes and grieves in a way that makes it far too dark to simply call a ballad. Staind is where the band members remember that their softer side still needs a certain amount of oomph to translate to the listener.
Liberating, Meaner Rock
won’t be confused with a Slayer
album, but its harder textures and meaner guitar riffs feel liberating. Opening with “Eyes Wide Open,” the album means to shake the cobwebs off, allowing Lewis to snarl and bark at his lyrical targets. When an established band tries to toughen up its sound, the risk is that they learn they don’t have that edge to them anymore. But while Staind were never a ferociously dark group, their embrace of the mainstream robbed them of some personality, and that comes rushing back on Staind
. Between “Eyes Wide Open” and “Not Again,” you can hear Staind trying to reconnect with the danger and excitement of being a young rock band out to take over the world. And that commitment, backed by some pretty sturdy tunes, is entirely unexpected and welcome. It would have made a lot more sense for Staind to stay the course. Instead, they took a risk, and more often than not it pays off.
If there’s one thing holding Staind back, as always, it’s that their material tends not to be all that original. Even Staind
’s best tracks fall into predictable radio-rock categories, and when they go for a harder metal sound, like on “Paper Wings,” they simply seem out of their depth. Staind are on firmer ground when they stay in their comfort zone but turn up the volume. The fans they’ve attracted with their hit ballads may not know what to make of Staind
, but some of the diehards may be glad to have their old heroes back. Staind
may not be a complete success, but it definitely argues that Lewis doesn’t need to go unplugged to make audiences care.
'Staind' - Best Tracks:
“Eyes Wide Open” (Purchase/Download
“Throw It All Away” (Purchase/Download
“Take a Breath” (Purchase/Download
“Not Again” (Purchase/Download
“The Bottom” (Purchase/Download
Release date – September 13, 2011
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publicist. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.