[17 October 2011]
Early in 2011, Staind lead singer Aaron Lewis did the unthinkable for a hard rock front man: he made a country record. That EP, Town Line, found Lewis playing with meter, adopting a gentler affectation, and introducing some genuinely interesting images in his lyrics. Town Line exposed a nuanced songwriter ready to ditch the tired rock tropes to reach a new audience…
... and then Staind put out its self-titled seventh album.
This is where the complimentary part of the review ends because Staind is one of the worst albums I’ve heard all year, a top to bottom exercise in bland, formulaic, boring rock. It’s technically solid and very loud and it might appeal to longtime fans, but unless it’s so loud that it shatters your eardrums there is no hiding how unimaginative Staind is.
Staind was smart in the late ‘90s to stake creative claim at the confluence of the alternative rock and metal scenes, somewhere between 3 Doors Down and Slipknot. It allowed them to tour alongside bands like Korn but also do radio friendly ballads. But those camps no longer exist in 2011, and in the vacuum Staind has become a less interesting version of Disturbed with misguided forays into rap-metal and plenty of multi-tracked screams because, apparently, the only thing better than an angsty scream from a wealthy 40-year old is a dozen angsty screams piled on top of each other.
Let’s start with the most left-field track here, “Wannabe”, wherein Lewis, hot off the heels of founding a non-profit to save his daughter’s school, accuses bloggers and music critics of bestiality and chronic masturbation in a pseudo-rap that’s as subtle as a Mickey Avalon song. Honestly, I’d take Avalon’s strung out amateur glam rap over Lewis chanting “Peanut butter on your dick/Right hand goin’ click/with your left hand givin’ you a rim job” any day. It’s not offensive because it’s gross. It’s not offensive because Lewis probably doesn’t know what a “rim job” is. It’s offensive because it makes Fred Durst’s lyrics seem mature in comparison.
The more serious attempts at songwriting are nearly as bad. “Throw It All Away” pairs the worst parts of Disturbed with the worst parts of Kid Rock. “Paper Wings” takes a Daedalus conceit to predictable, silly heights. And “The Bottom” is just boring and generic. Say what you will about former hits like “It’s Been a While” or “Outside” but there was a clear point of view behind those songs, and enough specificity to make them feel genuine. With the notable and ridiculous exception of “Wannabe”, Staind lacks life, replacing it instead with volume and technical prowess (of which there is much, admittedly). And it ends with a song about death. As a nod toward down tempo piano-laden outro tracks like Stonesour’s “Zzyzx Rd.” it’s not a bad song. It’s just so damn literal. A song about ending to end your album? Why not get a huge ink blot tattooed across your chest, too, so no one could ever forget your name?
The crazy part is that some of these songs might have been monster hits in the late ‘90s. At the time, Staind appealed to the kind of broad youth culture that supports monster hits, and popular music culture embraced hard rock. But this time around the culture is different—Drake and Death Cab For Cutie top the charts rather than Creed and Nine Inch Nails—and Staind itself is a different band. A lot older but not necessarily any wiser.