Capricorn Records, 1994

REVIEW BY: Eric Atwell


Pretenders to the recently vacated Red Hot Chili Pepper "kings of honkey funk" throne? No one seems to like this Omaha, Nebraska quintet very much, so I thought I'd give one of their earlier releases a spin. I now have a dirty secret: I really liked it. Sure I could rag on Grassroots' obvious influences, and the incessant white-boy rap, but since I found this album to be more than infectious, I will refrain from toeing the collective critical line.

Despite a few schizophrenic tracks, this album is actually quite unified. One thing I immediately noticed sets this band apart from a lot of their melting pot music contemporaries: these guys respect the chorus. I like a good hook and 311 definitely have a rigid pop sensibility. And, barring the rap, these guys can actually sing (if anemically), and guitarist Tim Mahoney knows how to play, except for one factor that drove me nuts - during the guitar solos Mahoney has a seeming disdain for vibrato. It took me a while to figure out what was bothering me about his parts, and it turns out the straight ahead playing was the culprit.

The album starts on a heavy, octave divided guitar riff. A big fan of that basement thumping sound, I was interested from the outset. The song itself, "Homebrew", is a rocker, with a really nice chorus that resonates with bassist P-Nut's cool playing and vocalist Nick Hexum's nasally jive. "Nutsymptom", the next track, takes off with a hip hop intro and some tolerable rapping by the, er...rapper, a guy called SA Martinez. What's of interest is the almost ragtime style of the chorus, which offers great contrast to the inherent hipness of the verses.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Another fascinating aspect of Grassroots is the producer, the veteran Eddie Offord (who produced and engineered seminal albums such as The Yes Album, Imagine, and Emerson, Lake and Palmer). Further research showed the guys in 311 fostered serious creative differences with Offord, and eventually it came down to a mutiny in the studio. Personally I found Grassroots has a clear and up front soundstage. To avoid any audio quality problems, like the murkiness I found while reviewing Rush's Signals, I transported Grassroots to my friend Patrick's house. Listening to the album through a couple Klipsch Chorus IIs and matching 15" subwoofer I found no fault with the production value.

A trio of smoother tracks balances the album's heaviness. "8:16 A.M." opens with a nifty vibraphone-type riff, which reminds me more of Zappa than anything else. It's a romantic backdrop and Hexum succeeds while riffing some nonsensical lyrics over the swelling guitar chords. Again the chorus is well crafted and appealing. "Lose" is a nice tribute to the foreknowledge of a breakup, and the track shows a lot of 311's pop awareness. The last song on the album, "1, 2, 3", features warm dub delays and some dancehall style rap by Martinez. I would like to see more of this style from the group, as I feel their chops and awareness of song form really shine through when they lay back.

There are some other rockers on the album, the most notable being "Applied Science". I really like Chad Sexton's interesting drum break/solo in the middle section. Also, the group throws in a wicked bridge towards the end that really defines 311's (forgive me) "stylee". The Jamaican dub edge was a really smart route for these guys, I feel the sound sets them apart from other acts that are in the same so-called "rap-metal" genre, although I hesitate to label 311 as metal due to their obviously diverse influences. A distorted guitar does not metal make.

While the other tunes on the album are certainly worth checking out, I feel 311 was really trying to establish their identity on Grassroots, thus I stuck with the tracks that stood out to me. I like the adventurous spirit of the disc, and have listened to it many times since, but there are two filler songs and a lot of unnecessary rapping that could have been replaced by more appealing melodies. So, I give the guys from Omaha a B- for Grassroots, and will likely be checking out the rest of their catalogue.

Rating: B-

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© 1998 Eric Atwell and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Capricorn Records, and is used for informational purposes only.