March 4, 2007

No Universal Truth This Time: Finger Eleven stylizes for new album

In an earlier post, I lauded Finger Eleven's ability to diverge from their typical fare after hitting the mainstream. And after having had the chance to spend some time with their new album pre-release (thanks to my co-contributors and MTV2), I think that they pulled it off. Really, it's not even a complete departure.

First, let's dispel the notion that this is a dance album, as MTV2 has labeled it. "Paralyzer" is, in fact, the only dance song on the album. It is an excellent lead-off track and a good choice for a first single, but with the recent emergence of "dance-rock" bands (Kasabian, OK Go, Franz Ferdinand) it's easy to take this song and just say that Finger Eleven is heading in that direction.

The second track on the album ("Falling On") takes Finger Eleven right back to the vicinity of their typical sound, where they find themselves on multiple tracks. "Lost My Way" feels like it would be at home on their self-titled album, whereas "So-So Suicide" could be pulled from the "Greyest Of Blue Skies" sessions. Some of the instrumentation has changed ("Falling On" has possibly the most complex guitar riff Finger Eleven has written to date, and the slide on "So-So" sounds almost in the southern-fried rock vein of Saliva), but it stays true to the F11 canon. "Sense Of A Spark" could have been taken right off "Tip". So it's not that F11 have diverged, really, so much as taken a page from each chapter in their story and decided to stretch a little bit.

You may not realize this, but Finger Eleven actually has a history of putting softer songs on their albums. Their debut "Tip" had "Awake And Dreaming" and album closer "Swallowtail," "TGOBS" has low point "Broken Words", and the self-titled album had them starting to perfect the softer sound with "One Thing" and "Thousand Mile Wish". The softer songs on this album are probably two of the high points; "I'll Keep Your Memory Vague" is the most wistful track Scott Anderson has ever written, while "Window Song" sounds like something off Stone Temple Pilots' release "Shangri-La Dee Da". With this end, two out of three isn't bad; the lowest point of the album is probably the last soft song on the album, "Change The World". I never hoped I'd hear Anderson use the pop-cliche of adding "girl" the way a valley girl says "like". At least he admits he's a cliche here, so he scores some points, but "Don't you believe, girl, you'll change the world? At least you changed the world for me" is not at home on a Finger Eleven album. While the song is sweet, it sits rather uncomfortably, and this reviewer is hoping that this song is not the next single. If it is, it will probably end up on the "Monster Ballads 2007" album with Hinder's "Lips Of An Angel".

Past "Sense Of A Spark", the album is only slightly less exceptional. "Talking To The Walls" would fall into the same trap as "Change The World" if it weren't a little harder and the lyrics a little less generic. "Gather & Give" puts a little funk riff into a typical F11 song, giving it a feel as if it were the child of F11 and their predecessor Rainbow Butt Monkeys. The final track, "Easy Life," goes for a distortion of 60's rock with psychedelic riffs and the multi-part harmony put into trippier songs. It picks up the quality a little bit and provides for a pretty solid (I'd say more plasma) ending.

If you're just looking to start out with Finger Eleven, this is not the album I'd suggest. I'd grab "Greyest" or the self-titled first. But if you've already had a little taste and liked what you heard, I would say to give this album a good listen or two. You may find yourself unsure at first, hooked at second.

Final Score: 92.

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