We welcome back Tommy D, who was a founding member of this blog under the url of RyansRantsandTommy’sTirades.Wordpress.com. Two of his marquee posts were reviews of albums by Disturbed and Alter Bridge, so he comes back for another comprehensive album review. Tommy now runs a movie blog which you can visit at TommyDTalksMovies.com.
Aaron Lewis and the rest of the Massachusetts-based hard rock band Staind have really made a name for themselves over the past decade-plus with a string of solid records and numerous hit singles. Through the different styles Staind has touched on over the years, the band’s trademarks have always been the versatile vocals of Aaron Lewis (ranging from primal screams to smooth, soaring melodies), the intricate skill of Mike Mushok playing baritone guitars, and the precision and power of Johnny April on bass. In particular, the standout has always been Lewis, whose ability to convey a sorrowful-yet-powerful tone in his primary singing voice makes one think of the great James Taylor. The combination of that vocal style with a hard-rock sound, as well as Lewis’s ability to let out the occasional guttural scream, makes Staind rise above the clutter of the modern-rock world.
After coming out with Dysfunction in 1999—the band’s first release on an actual label and second overall (Staind issued a limited release of an extraordinarily aggressive album called Tormented in 1996; even I did not care for most of this record)—Staind quickly became a household name with 2001’s Break The Cycle, which included such hits as “It’s Been A While,” “Outside,” “For You,” and “Fade.” After that, Staind came out with a series of solid rock releases over the subsequent years, including 14 Shades of Grey, Chapter V, and The Illusion of Progress. While I thought these were all pretty good records, much of the material was a little softer and more experimental, which was a departure from the perfectly-balanced Break The Cycle. In my opinion, Break The Cycle was and still is the band’s magnum opus. While the biggest hits from that record were soft, I also really enjoyed the heavier deep album cuts. After the more tranquil and experimental The Illusion of Progress, I thought we might never hear the aggressive-yet-balanced sound we got from Staind with Dysfunction and Break The Cycle. However, with last week’s release of its new self-titled album, Staind shows that it still has plenty of that sound left in the tank.
The new album is probably the band’s heaviest CD since 1999’s Dysfunction, which, while not my favorite Staind record, does have my favorite Staind song—“Mudshovel.” Lewis breaks out the screaming for the first time—at least to this extent—since Break The Cycle. However, most of this new release actually belongs to guitarist Mike Mushok. There is a wealth of heavy riffs and some really fantastic solos. Of the return to this heavier style following the experimental nature of The Illusion of Progress, Mushok said,
“It felt like we tried a lot of different styles of music (on The Illusion of Progress). I think being able to make the last record let us be able to make this record because it kind of got that out.”
Completing Staind was not without its difficulties, however. Amid conflict and tension during the recording process, drummer Jon Wysocki left the band. Mushok called parts of the recording process “miserable,” and had the following to say regarding Wysocki’s departure:
“Coming in, I don’t think we were all on the same page. I think we had different motivations, and we never really got on the same page. Figuring out how to handle that, and what to do with it, after being in a band with somebody for 16, 17 years, just not an easy decision to make. And not a fun one to make. It took a long time to really figure out how it was going to be handled. So, that was tough.”
The intense aggression of much of the record might very well have something to do with the tensions that arose during the recording process. In any event, Staind was able to overcome—or channel—these difficulties into a solid release that will likely be somewhat nostalgic to longtime Staind fans.
Let’s take a look at Staind song-by-song:
- Eyes Wide Open: An excellent opener that effectively sets the tone for the remainder of the record. It starts with a somewhat-foreboding bass pattern from Johnny April, and soon breaks into a heavy-yet-catchy guitar riff from Mushok. Lewis comes in with some aggressive yells, and doesn’t take long to bring back the screams of Staind’s yesteryear. Showing his versatility, however, he transitions beautifully into a soaring and captivating chorus. The bridge is also excellent, with some low vocals spoken by Lewis followed by some intense screams layered over some shredding by Mushok. Very solid song overall. 8.5/10
- Not Again: The album’s lead single, and probably its best song, which is unusual to me; I usually find singles to be good but far from the best an album has to offer. Here, though, Staind picked the right song to promote early on. It represents everything this album—and really this band at its best—is all about. The main guitar riff is one of Staind’s very best, and the pre-chorus, which features both screaming and soaring vocals from Lewis, is simply awesome. Lewis’s subsequent declaration of “not again” in the chorus is something you’ll find in your head for a while, along with the main guitar riff. That’s not all the song has to offer though—the precise guitar soloing in the interlude, followed by some more great shredding, again displays Mushok’s versatility. Overall, this song is everything I love about Staind—great vocals, great guitar work, and a perfect combination of aggression and melody. 10/10
- Failing: A somewhat slower track, but this pacing makes it deceptively heavy when Lewis’s screaming comes in during the pre-chorus. The chorus is then classic Staind—mid-paced and very melodic. Mushok provides some pretty nice wah guitar fills after the chorus. “Failing” is a pretty diverse song—with some of Staind’s more unique guitar work—that has high potential to grow on listeners with repeated listens. 8/10
- Wannabe: I’m all for Staind bringing back some styles from the late ‘90s and early 2000s, but the nu-metal vibe of this song just doesn’t really work. The verses are almost rapped, and that’s not something Staind really needs to delve into. The chorus is decent but not spectacular. The best part of the song is the guitar solo. I love that Staind is using them so much more frequently on this song, however, “Wannabe” is perhaps the album’s most forgettable song. 4.5/10
- Throw It All Away: Similar mid-tempo pace to “Failing,” with a nice little guitar intro that becomes the song’s main riff. The vocals are all clean in this one, and as such, the track is aptly placed midway through the album to serve as somewhat of a break from the aggressive onslaught. Decent chorus and above-average bridge with some higher-pitched vocals from Lewis. Pretty good but not spectacular. 7/10
- Take A Breath: Starts with a cool, calm-before-the-storm intro that transitions into another heavy riff from Mushok. The verse brings back the more tranquil intro, but once again, is overtaken by heaviness both musical and vocal. Then the chorus comes in with a high, soaring melody from Lewis—one of his trademarks. There is also a pretty good solo from Mushok. Another solid track. 8/10
- The Bottom: Another one of the record’s standout tracks, “The Bottom” was featured in the movie Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Begins with a curious, static-sounding riff from Mushok that brings back memories of Dysfunction, and eventually, transitions from a mid-tempo verse (a Staind special) to a spectacularly melodic and gripping chorus (“I’ll meet…you at the bottom…”). Seems like one of the album’s less aggressive tunes until Lewis unleashes the screams in a great, head-banging bridge. A very well-rounded song. 9/10
- Now: Features perhaps the best introduction the album—a truly spectacular bit of guitar playing by Mushok; this riff persists throughout the song. You will be hooked in immediately. For better or worse though, this guitar pattern is the high point of the song (the solo comes close though). The rest of it is still good, but that guitar work is hard to beat. Mushok truly owns this track. 8.5/10
- Paper Wings: Probably the most aggressive song this CD has to offer. The screaming in the verses doesn’t really do the job for me. I sometimes like screamed verses if they are done right, but again, the nu-metal vibe isn’t really effective here. The chorus, however is above average (the vocals here are fairly clean), and the interlude is really awesome. It slows down very suddenly and then breaks into another sharp solo by Mushok, showing a side to this song that I really didn’t see coming on the first listen. That and the chorus somewhat salvage the track. 5.5/10
- Something To Remind You: After hearing predominantly aggressive tunes, Staind closes with a very well-crafted ballad. I can’t say it enough, but Mushok again shows his versatility as a guitarist with some very soft yet moving patterns throughout this track. This is also the song where Lewis really shines the most, as his voice is accompanied only by Mushok’s soft guitar playing. While I generally prefer when Staind balances aggression and melody, I still appreciate a ballad that is done well, and “Something To Remind You” is just that. There is even a mini-solo by Mushok, which serves as the icing on the cake for me. This song is a curveball with regard to the rest of the album, but it is nevertheless a very effective closing song. 8.5/10
Overall, I have to say I am pretty happy that Staind has not abandoned some of the aggressive traits from its roots. In that regard, this album was a pleasant surprise for me. It’s not Break The Cycle, but it’s very good nonetheless. Aaron Lewis shows his wide range as a vocalist, and Mushok shines on guitar with perhaps his best work yet. I would have liked for there to have been more than 10 tracks, but since most of them are at least very good, I cannot really complain too much.
Tommy D’s Score: 8/10
The approximately equivalent score according to the Tommy D rating scale (out of four) would be:
3.25 Tommy Ds
Please keep in mind that scoring an album or movie is pretty difficult and reviews are not meant to be comparative ranks between albums, especially if different authors reviewed each album. Thanks for the review!