Is This Still Good? : 311 — self-titled

Is This Still Good? is a series in which I revisit records that I loved as a youngish person, and examine how well they have held up over the years for me.

How did I get into this record?

I’ll never understand how. My best guess is that 311 got on my radar just before I fully got into punk rock. I was turning 13 and was still mostly beholden to whatever cool rock’n’roll videos came on MTV. I liked them for about 18 months, and then was entirely done with them.

Is the music still good?

I never listened to the two 311 records that preceded this one, but with it being their major-label breakthrough, I’ll say that this is the one where they fully defined their sound: funk-metal-rap-rock-reggae. If you think that’s, as my 7th grade students would say, “doing too much,” you are correct. It is doing too much.

I suppose you could say that 311 actually does a good job of balancing all of those genres within their songs, as they never try to do something pointlessly surprising like have a reggae part followed by an overly aggressive metal part. “Down” is a straight-up funk rock song, “Hive” plays up the metal tendencies, “All Mixed Up” is reggae and gentle rock. Everything kind of fits together. I’ll also say that upon revisiting this record, I was impressed by the inventiveness of the melodies and riffs. If you only knew “Down,” you’d think 311 just wrote lunkheaded riffs all the time, but they actually try a lot and have some musical depth!

But the musical depth isn’t good. And by “not good,” I mean “absolutely not my style.” A song like “Loco” should serve as an explanation for what I don’t like here: bouncy, lightweight riffs followed by unnecessarily complex riffs that don’t fit with the accompanying lightweight rapping and singing.

Are the lyrics still good?

Again, before I say anything more, I need to stress that this is all about what happens when 311 is put through my very particular musical brain. If you like 311, that’s great! I hope it’s fun for you!

I cannot stand basically any element of the lyrics or vocals on this record. As I said earlier, the only way I ever could have liked this is because I was too young to know when something was lame and sucky. 311 is lame and sucky because of Nick Hexum and SA Martinez, and the fact that they are two white guys from Omaha who are fine enough singers but are absolutely dreadful rappers.

There are certain lyrics of dubious quality that good rappers can get away with when they have the right blend of skill and swagger. Their cadence or the mere tone of their voice gets them by. In the hands of say, GZA or even Eminem, you might be okay with a lyric like “You’re all up in my mix like fuckin’ Betty Crocker, you think you’re playin’ me but actually you’re a jocker.” But in the hands of Hexum and Martinez, with their white-ass tone and clumsy cadence, the flaws in their game are exposed like James Harden trying to defend someone in the paint (THAT’S A SPORTS REFERENCE, SORRY ABOUT THAT).

I do have to commend 311 for trying to tackle a couple subjects that in retrospect needed to be addressed at the time: gun violence and domestic violence. But they do this in the moronically-titled “Guns (Are For Pussies)” (thanks for the parentheses there, guys), and the even more moronically-titled “DLMD” or “Don’t Let Me Down,” in which Hexum implores a woman enduring domestic violence to pick herself up off the ground, get out of the situation and go to his non-violent arms. But if she doesn’t, she’ll let him down. Dammit, guys, you were SO CLOSE to saying something intelligent and empathetic! You just needed to try harder!

Did the band’s look age well?

I actually expected to find much more embarrassing pictures of 311, but this isn’t too bad, is it? I don’t love SA Martinez sporting the white tank top, and Tim Mahoney is wearing the rose-stitched bowling shirt (which as previously established was the type of shirt that men in the 90’s were legally mandated to wear), but overall, no one is doing a terrible job. Impressive!

What are the worst songs?

“Sweet” really sucks. “Hive” is such a lame attempt at being tough. “Purpose” is just soft-ass reggae verses and a hideously bad hard rock chorus.

What are the best songs?

Aside from the three hit singles from this record, which I still think are just fine, the one song that I fully remembered without hearing the record for about two decades was “Jackolantern’s Weather.” It has a neat opening riff that almost sounds like a mathy Dillinger Escape Plan song (I know, but trust me!). Now, it does immediately go into an extremely crappy rap verse with bad riffs, but then the chorus is just money. I vividly remember walking my dog in the crisp fall air listening to that song on my Discman, and I felt like 311 was singing about me, trying to make it through that cold world with my headphones bumpin’, trying to get back to my basement bedroom so I could eat Skittles and watch Mystery Science Theater 3000.

So…is this still good?

I don’t think it’s good at all, no. It’s hard for me to even step away from the record and judge its worth objectively. This style is just so plainly not for me anymore that I have my blinders on and can’t give a straight answer. 311 is for people who like to smoke weed and think that blending funk and rock is a good thing. I’m just none of that. It was fun to go back and try to determine what made me so into this for a short period of time, but I couldn’t figure it out. I just keep coming back to walking my dog and feeling like 311 understood me, like they knew I was uncool just like them, but here they were, trying to make something unique and break out into the world. I ended up doing that in my own way, so maybe I have 311 to thank?

No, nevermind, I don’t thank 311. There are about 140 bands I would thank before them. But again, I’m not mad at them! I hope they’re all healthy and getting through this pandemic okay! Be safe, guys!

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