In celebration of the release of their fifth studio album under this moniker (sixth if you count the Rainbow Butt Monkeys release Letters From Chutney and seventh if you really choose to count the collection of random b-sides and demos, Us Vs Then Vs Now), Finger Eleven played a relatively short set at the Mod Club this past Sunday. Showcasing several Life Turns Electric tracks alongside predictably chosen singles from their last two (read: popular) albums, the band had the club rocking and bopping, their cheers for old and new material enthusiastic. But from a critical stance, one must ask: do the Finger Five still have that elusive ‘it’ that made them stand out in the late 90s as something more than the run of the mill alt-rock bands flooding the airwaves?
This being my 24th outing since 1999, I’ve sadly had to accept that the older, more unique material that showcased the full potential of the band and its two lead guitarists has been essentially shelved, in favour of pleasing the fickle masses that think One Thing is the most brilliant ballad these men have composed. Earlier that day, I’d been spinning tracks from The Greyest of Blue Skies and Tip for my fiance, who commented that all of it was, “Really good!” (coming from a devout metal head, it’s a hard wrought compliment). I was picking apart the genius of tracks like My Carousel, and the way they’d managed to actually create carnival music melodies within a hard rocking track, and remembering the time I ruined my left knee for life during First Time. I then realized that I’d been a fan since junior high, when Circles hit the radio, and felt like an old hag. But I digress.
Although I have definitely enjoyed a significant amount of music the band has created since his arrival on the scene, I will steadfastly insist that Johnny K is the worst thing to have happened to the band in terms of stifling their more daring moves. Everything sounds like… well, a better version of the mainstream pap all of the other bands are offering up at the teat. This still makes Finger Eleven a superior band to the likes of Daughtry, Hoobastank and 3 Doors Down (and don’t even get me started on Nickelcrap), but that’s not saying as much as before, when I would be in awe of their compositions and lyrical prowess. Never would I have imagined that a gem like Unspoken would be shelved in favour of a song like One Thing, which feels like even Justin Bieber could perform it. Even the lyrics are so simplistic, I have to wonder if it was more of a drabble of a song, until Johnny K found genius in it. As one radio personality put it on Twitter Sunday night, “You may hate the song, but I’m sure it bought them all houses!” I cannot disagree, nor do I fault the band for having the success to reward themselves for years of hard work. However, that doesn’t mean attempting to write a new One Thing for every album, nor does it mean neglecting everything before that album.
It’s so bad, this ‘pretend it never happened’ mentality that the band and their label seem to jointly hold, that I’ve spotted several articles written in a manner that suggests that their self-titled third album was their very first. And that I consider a crime against music.
The band still delivers an incredible live show; the energy is there, and songs that are weaker in the studio cuts for me (again, I blame Johnny K) rock out harder live, more embracing of their full potential. Examples include Falling On, Talking To The Walls (which I find meh at best for the studio cut) and new single Living In A Dream. I wish the band would strive to capture more of the richness and raw power of the stage in the official releases. Newer tracks showcased all came off fairly strong, with Whatever Doesn’t Kill Me and Pieces Fit being the strongest of the debuts. The album seems to be attempting to marry the stronger elements of Them Vs You Vs Me and the self-titled disc, which bodes well overall, even if the lyrics feel derivative in places (Good Intentions). I almost detected an 80s electro-rock vibe a la Simple Minds in places, which makes for a pleasant evolution for a band that has been putting material out for over a decade.
The greatest weakness of the live show, and one that I noted in depth in my last review of the band, is the focus on the recent albums, to the serious detriment of their early work. With Above as the only song representing the 1997-2000 era, the show felt ‘samey’, namely due to the lack of melodic playfulness in the majority of the newer releases. It also alienated several of the older members of the audience, self included, who have been with the band since the days of endless touring to make a decent living. With how positively Above was met, by fans old and new around me, the band should strongly reconsider their tendencies towards ignoring the back catalogue, instead focusing on reinterpreting some of the tracks, perhaps (Condenser, for example, could meet with the funkier notes of Paralyzer, and evolve into the set’s new flow). There is no reason why Broken Words can’t segue into I’ll Keep Your Memory Vague, or First Time can’t still launch a show. Even Tip would flow nicely into Falling On, and is a sorely missed once-staple of the set. The short set here also was a bit of a letdown, and is hopefully not indicative of the tour to come. With 5 albums to select from, it wouldn’t kill the band to play 90 minutes, particularly when others play two hour plus sets (Muse, for but one example).
This review may seem as if I didn’t enjoy myself, but I did have a great time at the gig. I just know, from years of experience, that this band is capable of delivering more. And if the new-fan audiences are lapping up what I consider an 85% effort, this band could pack a stadium full with their newer clout and a full 100% delivered with a riff and forceful bang of Rich Beddoe’s drums. Hopefully, a fear of ‘losing the spotlight’ won’t eventually stifle their more daring moments entirely down the line; a new producer would be a great start for guarding against that.
Life Turns Electric drops officially on October 5th.
SETLIST: FINGER ELEVEN @ MOD CLUB, TORONTO 9/26/10
Any Moment Now
Talking To The Walls
Whatever Doesn’t Kill Me
I’ll Keep Your Memory Vague
Living In A Dream