As a life-long 311 fan, I approached Voyager with more optimism than most. I looked forward to each of their releases every other summer and would typically be one of the first ones to purchase their new music on the street date. Over time, even as my taste in music gravitated towards punk/emo-tinged rock, 311 remained a band I would find myself coming back to as spring came to a close. With multiple summer tours packing amphitheaters across the US, 311 have always benefited from a patient listening base. This album should do little to change their devout fans’ opinions on the direction the band is going. The fact remains that at thirteen albums in their career, they may have played things a little too safe on Voyager.
Their 13th studio album was recorded with producer John Feldman, and some of his producing tendencies tend to dissuade from my overall satisfaction of the final product. The cranked-up guitars on the opener, “Crossfire” sound like an updated “Eye of the Tiger” type of approach of getting their fans excited for what is to come on the record. Nick Hexum’s vocals sound as fresh as ever on the track, yet something felt a little off in the overall production of the track. Things improve slightly on “Don’t You Worry” with its dramatic build-up to a reggae-infused, spacey song perfect for a long drive under the summer sky. “I will find a way to reach you/Everything that has a beginning, has an end,” Hexum sings on the first chorus, which could be his way of saying to his fanbase that the band will always be there for them, but to a point.
“Stainless” features some fresh guitar work from Tim Mahoney, and it turned out to be one of my favorite songs on the LP. It’s a moment where 311 truly click, and they trust in their band chemistry to deliver a trademark song in their discography. The signature, mid-tempo bubbly guitars courtesy of Mahoney make their debut on the song “Space and Time,” and finds the band gaining more confidence as the album unfolds. When 311 are able to trust in what made them so successful to this point in their career, the magic of their music comes through much less forced, and often, beautifully.
“Dream State” is a forgivable miss in the middle of sequencing, filled with crunchy guitars and some other nu-metal-type elements that eventually lead the way to a chorus meant to get their fans spacing out on the starry vibes put forth. Other songs in the middle of the record such as the current single “Good Feeling” find 311 experimenting with a more Latin-flavored type of pop song, with mostly favorable final results. The song comes at a time when the album seemed to be slipping further into a mediocrity trap, and the band saves the listening experience at this point in the LP.
“What The?!” reminded me of some of the stoner type of tracks that 311 made early on in their career, yet this track feels more like a homage to the past than covering any new ground along the way. SA Martinez does his best to attempt the track from straying too far into the strange realm, yet the entire song feels a tad out of place on this album. “Better Space” is another song that doesn’t warrant too many repeat listens, as it sounds like standard fodder from the Omaha-faithful.
And then there is “Dodging Raindrops.” A song that features an almost Maroon 5 type of pop song structure, and it ends up sounding more like a Chainsmokers collaboration than anything that I would expect from 311. Hexum sings, “I’ve been dodging raindrops for far too long/These clouds over my head, they won’t move on,” and the entire song put me out of my comfort zone of expectations towards the band I grew up with.
The final four songs help the final product slightly, with some great P-Nut bass lines in “Rolling Through” and “Born to Live” that remind fans why they continue to support the artist. Where “Charge It Up” presents the final opportunity for the listeners to “nod their head to this,” there is still little new ground covered. By the time I got to the album closer, “Lucid Dreams,” I had found myself ranking this album somewhere right in the middle of their entire discography. In reality, there was nothing that moved the needle in one direction or the other. While 311 are likely to shake this album off as they set off on their summer tour, they may need to bring a few more surprises into their next record to keep their fans clamoring for more tunes.