Staind specialize in new metal's favorite pastime -- self-flagellation -- but the quartet does it with acoustic guitars and wet noodles, a formula that's turned it into a multimillion-seller. Aaron Lewis one-ups the competition in that he can do more than just grunt and growl; on Staind's third album, 14 Shades of Grey, his self-doubt is swathed in a croon that's every bit as expressive as Justin Timberlake's. Words such as "ashamed" spackle the songs, though Lewis does his best to smile through the anguish: "These are my words/That I've never said before/I think I'm doing OK." Unfortunately, Lewis' sensitivity training can't salvage Staind's washed-out music. Part of the problem is the thoroughly unimaginative production, a procession of soft-loud modern-rock cliches that breaks up the ho-hum guitar bashing with acoustic interludes and strings, notably on "Zoe Jane," a front-runner for this summer's lighter-waving ballad. Staind still haven't hit upon a sound to call their own; on "Layne" they even cop Alice in Chains' brooding drone metal in a clumsy tribute to the late singer Layne Staley. At least the title gets it right: 14 Shades of Grey couldn't be more drab.
(RS 925, June 26, 2003)
(Posted: Jun 3, 2003)