Now entering its third decade, 311 has cemented its status as a muscled touring machine, one that's capable of selling out venues across the country without the assistance of high-charting singles or current albums. Uplifter, the band's ninth studio release (and first album in nearly four years), is streamlined accordingly, wielding a polished mix of tour-worthy anthems and lighter-hoisting ballads that seem destined to fare better in concert than on record. This is standard 311 fare, stuffed with the requisite flourishes of alternative rock, reggae, and frat boy funk that made the band popular some 15 years prior. Bob Rock produces the rock numbers with a beefy hand -- 311 has rarely sounded so heavy before -- while allowing the band to retain its sonic calling cards: the heavy chorus effect on Nick Hexum and S.A. Martinez's harmonies, the watery strum of Tim Mahoney's guitar, and the crispness of Chad Sexton's snare drum.
Some unfortunate habits remain, most notably the singers' somewhat obsessive-compulsive desire to end sentences with exclamations like "Uh!" or "Everybody jump!" In fact, lyrics prove to be Uplifter's main pitfall, from the Chicken Soup for the Soul-styled message of "Hey You" ("Hey you! You're my constant companion!") to the heavy-handed "Mix It Up," which likens a couple's chemistry to the components of an alcoholic drink. "Mix it up, uh!" Hexum commands. "Just mix it up, what!" Such orders fall flat when separated from the live audience at which they're obviously aimed, and the regimented vocals only stifle any strength they may have had on record. The bulk of Uplifter fares similarly, resulting in an album that's better suited to a set list than a stereo.