311’s Universal Pulse

by terri sapp

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Every time that my favorite band comes out with a new album, I get all nervous and excited all at the same time!  I can’t wait to sit alone with the lyrics, read along as I listen, and just enjoy.  The nerves come from the same anticipation that I get when I am about to shoot photos of them at their concerts.  Butterflies and all!  Nick Hexum (vocals and guitar), SA Martinez (vocals and special effects), Chad Sexton (drums), P-Nut (bass), and Tim Mahoney (guitar) have not made an album yet that I did not like, and their 2011 release, Universal Pulse is no different.  I knew from the first song, “Time Bomb” that I would love Universal Pulse.  This time, unlike in the past, I ordered my copy (CD and vinyl) on a pre-sale set up by the band.  However, once the actual day came for the album to ‘drop,’ I didn’t feel right not picking a copy up from one of my favorite local record stores, so I went there, too!  311 usually offers a special keepsake with their records that are bought the day they go on sale, and this year it was a free limited edition lenticular hologram of the album cover.  Of course, I couldn’t resist!

“Time Bomb” is a classic 311 dancehall rock jam.  Seems like another awesome message and sort of another ode to their fans… “Let me introduce you to the excitable crew!  This is just how we do.  Tickin’ like a time bomb…watch, we go off!”  SA and Nick’s harmonies are on point throughout Universal Pulse, which always gets a crowd going.  “Time Bomb” will be one that 311 enjoys playing live, I’m sure.  “Wild Nights” has a little harder feel on the music end, but very melodic vocals.Chad’s drums and P-Nut’s bass are heavy in “Wild Nights.”  There is no question where I stand onChad’s drumming, or Mahoney’s guitar work, so I’ll just say they rock this song out. 

The first single for Universal Pulse is “Sunset in July,” which is a bit more subdued than the first songs on the record.  I can hear that bit of an edge in the song, but “Sunset in July” focuses more on the melody, I think.  One of the things I love about a 311 song is that you think that it will go one way, but then they will change it up on you and make you feel like you are getting two songs in one!  “Watching you dancing and having the time of your life, and it’s getting’ me high. Time is flying by, Woah oh-oh-oh!”  Sounds like their Summer tours!!  I’m sure we’ll be hearing this one quite a bit on the road.  The guitar riff throughout the song is unmistakable. 

“Trouble” is full of great lyrics and harmonious vocals to go along with the music.  “I was always looking for trouble, trouble, it always followed me.  I would always have to do a double, a double cuz one just ain’t enough of all the liquor and enough of pharmaceuticals…The bullshit the trouble was coming from me, honestly.” “Point of contention, pain will both motivate and lead to you change, whoa.  It’s been said before, I’ll say it again, you only will get, one spin oh-oh.”  “Trouble” is a head bobber, for sure.  One of my favorites on Universal Pulse, “Count Me In” hits the reggae spot that I am always looking for with 311.  I am a sucker for a reggae beat!  I’d say that it is obvious that in their later years, 311 has matured a lot in their lyric writing.  Not to say that they haven’t always had stellar lyrics, but the topics they hit these days are more from a place of a 30 something (like me) who has been through a good bit of life experiences.  I LOVE IT!  I say “count me in!”  I would dedicate this one to my lover… “You and me will go on. We can make war or we can make love ‘til I figure out how you know what I’m thinking of, you are under my skin. Count me in I’ve made a decision. Count me in if you’re in, I’m in. I know what you’re thinking and you know I’m with you. Count me in, if you do, I do.”  Sorry to quote so much, but I love the lyrics in this record!

I knew immediately when seeing a song called “Rock On” on Universal Pulse, it would be in the more rock-n-roll genre of 311’s repertoire.  Chad’s drums are a major part of “Rock On,” and I can hear that there are dueling guitars, so that means Tim AND Nick are rockin’ it out!  The bass on “Weightless” is off the chain, yo!  And, I can’t say enough about the vocals.  SA’s harmonies kill me!  I find myself singing along with him hitting the high notes.  I know I am not the only one imaging him dancing around the stage when hearing him singing.  The beat is slower, but still very upbeat and danceable.  I really do love that Nick and SA are singing quite a bit on this shorter album.  There may not be as many songs on Universal Pulse, but the eight songs that are on it all have their own personality and ROCK!

The last song has to be my favorite of the whole LP!  “And A Ways To Go” is one of the many songs in 311’s catalogue that shows off their softer side!  The vocals, lyrics, drums, bass, and guitar are all on point, and it is just so damn pretty!  There is a heavier breakdown in the middle of the song, but for the most part, “And A Ways To Go” is sweet-sounding and ‘311 soft,’ which is softer than most of their songs.  Maybe this is where they appeal to their lady crowd, but whatever, it works!  The sensitive side of 311 always has me swaying!  SA and Nick singing together on this one is the pinnacle of their Universal Pulse harmonies!  Of course, anyone who knows me KNOWS I am totally smitten with Tim Mahoney, and could listen to his guitar all day long…because I like the way it sounds, AND because I like to imagine him playing it and doing his dance moves!  Many of my newly acquired 311 appreciators are partial to SA, so they also have to love this song, as he has most of the vocal parts in “And A Ways To Go.”  Toward the end, there is an almost Pink Floyd “On the Run” inspired breakdown, just before “come on yeah it’ll be alright and we’re gonna take a ride.  I don’t know if we’ll come back.”  The first time I heard this, I was almost in tears, not because of the cool music, but because I do NOT like hearing those words come out of SA’s mouth… (and maybe a little bit hormones).  The thought of 311 not coming back, NO!  I want them to stick with “I’ll be here awhile, ain’t goin’ nowhere!”

For more information on what 311 is doing, visit www.311.com, and make sure to pick up a copy of the new album Universal Pulse.  It is reasonably priced, and worth every penny!