After a head-scratching detour into a solo country career, growling frontman Aaron Lewis is all too eager to remind us he's a tough guy
Staind singer Aaron Lewis wants you to know he’s not a wimp. And he's recorded an album dedicated to proving it.
The self-titled “Staind" finds the hard-rock band pulling out every stop to make you forget about Lewis’ solo career as a country artist or the string of ballads that watered down the group’s image.
Lewis is in full snarl mode from the start, throwing out sell-out accusations at a mystery target. “The hating and the waiting, hesitating/I just want to be done with you faking,” he howls, righteously. “It’s sick! It’s sick!” Clearly, Lewis knows that the best defense is a good offense.
If he has a reason to feel attacked, or ignored, it’s because Staind really hasn’t been on hardcore metallurgists’ maps lately.
At their peak, in 2001, they were able to sell over 700,000 albums in a single week. But an increasing emphasis on radio-friendly slow songs alienated a good part of the base, and heads certainly cocked in puzzlement when Lewis released a solo EP this past March that topped the country sales chart. He’d gone from collaborating with Limp Bizkit to the very genre of biscuits.
So, except for the closing number, the pendulum swings far, far away from mellowness on “Staind,” which really does party like it’s 1999 … which is to say, when nu-metal was peaking. If you’re a fan of knucklehead grunge, their seventh album is a creditable one, with headbangers that are concise and hooky – but not, you know, suspiciously hooky – and Lewis’ talent for veering from Eddie Vedder prettiness to a sociopathic roar fully in evidence.
Originality is one thing that will never stain this band. “Got to do something different now” is the mantra of the typically hard-punching “Now,” but there’s no danger of them practicing that particular preaching. From the eponymous title forward, “Staind” is a bid to recapture, not redefine. While you have to admire the band for remembering and re-branding what it is they do best, it’s sad that someone who’s proved he can be as genre-inclusive as Lewis is too chicken to bring any of those outside influences to his day job.
There was almost a cross-genre collaboration with Snoop Dogg, who recorded a rap for "Wannabe" but was wiped off the track at the last minute. (The number is still a rap-rock throwback, thanks to Lewis having re-recorded Snoop's part himself.) "Wannabe" is yet another riff-driven exercise in defensiveness, as Lewis, reacting to some backlash on the web, paints his online detractors as chronic masturbators living in their mothers’ basements: “You hate everything that you can’t be…/It’s so easy when you’re faceless/Why don’t you focus on your misery."
It remains to be seen whether beating up on the little people is a comeback strategy that’ll work for Staind. But chips on shoulders are what metal is made of.
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Chris Willman has been a frequent contributor to TV Guide, New York magazine, the Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone, Spin, Billboard, Parade and other publications. In a long run at Entertainment Weekly, he penned more than 20 cover stories as a senior writer before becoming the magazine’s chief music critic. His book "Rednecks & Bluenecks: The Politics of Country Music" was praised by Stephen King, who said, “You won’t read a better book about American music this year — or, probably, a better one about American political thought.”