I remember in 7th grade hearing “Down” on the radio and really liking it. I came to school the next day and asked my friends if they liked the song as well. My one friend John wasn’t really feeling it, and I believe he innocently made fun of me for it. Well, a year or two later 311 was his favorite band and he memorized all their lyrics. This little anecdote makes me think of two things: “Down” came out fifteen years ago (!?!) and 311 have way more die-hard fans than you can imagine.
311 are in a unique position as a band. They don’t have to sell records. They don’t have to get radio play. They don’t need press. The band is self-sustained through an insane grassroots fan base, constant touring and an amazing live show. They can tour at anytime they want and easily sell out venues of 10,000 plus. Somewhere around Soundsystem, Nick, SA, P-Nut, Tim, and Chad transformed from a rap/rock outfit to the modern day Grateful Dead, focused more on good times, positive vibes and soaring melodies.
I’m sure much of their popularity can be attributed to their support of marijuana, but the band is a long way from “Who’s Got the Herb?” On Uplifter, 311 prove that there is such a thing as intelligent stoner rock. And while the band doesn’t sing about weed anymore, it’s pretty safe to say they know their audience and have created tracks like “Two Drops in the Ocean” and “Golden Sunlight” for those who like the kind bud.
Singers Nick Hexum and S.A. Martinez continue to craft melodies rather than raps and the harmonies are much more rewarding. Songs like “Jackpot” and “Never Ending Summer” are fun uptempo jams that were meant for the stage. Easily the two most enjoyable moments on the disc for me are the Graceland-like guitar and slap bass bridge in “It’s Alright,” and the funky synths used to beef up “Mix it Up.”
Listening back to Uplifter, I think it’s better than I originally thought. It’s not a perfect album–“India Ink” has some cringe inducing lyrics and Chad Sexton continues to make a strong case for the most overrated drummer in rock, but what can you ask for from a band that, at this point in their career, has no expectations? They jam in their own studio, call in Bob Rock to produce, stick to the same basic song structure and formula and crank out an album that is breezy, yet heavy at points, and displays the amazing technical proficiency of their rhythm section. All songs sound familiar, but fresh.
311 have been making music for quite sometime and they’re obviously doing something right. Uplifter is a solid album that fits nicely into their catolog and provides several worthy options for their next summer setlist.