First and foremost, a band’s job is to rock. That’s why rock comes first in the phrase “rock ‘n’ roll”. Anything else: fancy duotone uniforms, political views, a horn section, is merely pretense, additives that can either hinder or augment the effect based on their application. When done well, there’s a lot to be said for the simple combination of drums, a bass guitar, one or two six-strings and some singing. Think the Beatles, the Stones, the Experience, etc. It may sound like I’m giving a class in theory, but there’s a point to all this.
We’ve entered an era where it seems easy for any band with these minimum elements to get signed but hard for many of these bands to write anything worth listening to more than once or sometimes at all, as if we’ve finally reached the dregs and are forced to listen to every semi-respectable “modern rock”-sounding bar band the labels can find. I’d actually almost completely abandoned the idea that the simple band structure alone would be enough to provide something anywhere near rock, searching instead for acts that include pretenses like comedy (Liam Lynch), keyboard nostalgia (Hot Hot Heat) and disco metal meatheadism (Electric Six), not to mention hyper-intellectual free jazz-based prog rock (The Mars Volta).
Given all this, it comes as great surprise that one of the most refreshing discs I’ve spun all year should be the new album by Finger Eleven, a self-titled venture that’s nothing but modern rock bar band-ism but actually remembers to rock. Spawned from the same label that’s given us Creed, Evanescence, and Drowning Pool (Requiescat en pace, Dave), Finger Eleven is that same simple five-piece I mentioned earlier, giving us an album of twelve (the safe CD number) songs that for all intents and purposes should be unremarkable but in fact is not. Is it the instrumentals? Well, there’s a pretty decent guitar solo on “Almost Elements,” but I’m not sure that’s it. Is it jam-packed with stand-out tracks? Well, I can tell you it’s a damn shame that “Good Times,” with it’s positive ‘keep your head up’ message and high energy, isn’t on the radio; it’d certainly fit right in, as would “Other Light,” the opening track. Is there some anguish? Well, I think I heard some yelling on “The Last Scene of Struggling.” Are there tender AOR ballads? Absolutely. “One Thing,” a back-half track, makes a pretty radio ballad and actually starts off reaching for the calm greatness of Queensryche’s “Silent Lucidity.”
VERDICT: Frankly, this is a pretty straightforward album. There’s no pretense or distinguishing gimmicks, and in the end that’s probably what makes this a good album as opposed to damning it to mediocrity. Not a classic by any means, but certainly better than 75 percent of the simple bands I’ve heard this year. If nothing else, it will restore your faith in the basic elements of rock.