Aaron Lewis must have been trolling MySpace again because The Illusion of Progress reads more like a mawkish, bitchy rant about how life sucks than it does a grown-up rock album. Of course, that’s the modus operandi of this post-grunge/stuck-in-the-90s band. Changing from the edible doom-and-gloom to something more significant and evocative would, you know, require effort.
In the late 90s, Staind arrived and poked around in the remnants of the grunge movement. Guided by a Staley-meets-Vedder vocalist as trend dictated, the band’s big break came as the result of one Fred Durst and his impeccable taste. A number of mainstream hits later and the quartet joined the likes of 3 Doors Down and Nickelback as featureless pop-rock staples.
Their sixth studio album is as fittingly named as anything the band has ever released. Recorded in Lewis’ ashtray-littered home studio, The Illusion of Progress is considered by the band to be their “most musical” project to date. Lewis even noted on the Staind website that the album had tones of Pink Floyd to it, which is a little like Miley Cyrus claiming that her new record contained hints of Debbie Harry.
Lewis’ lyrics here are about as bad as they’ve ever been. “Believe in me, ‘cause I was made for chasing dreams,” he whines like a pitiable puppy on, you guessed it, a track called “Believe.” Christ, Celine Dion seems cooler.
Lewis’ intonations of the lame-duck words don’t add much to the vacant phrases. His intrinsic lack of zeal and mewling about is simply too much to take by about the halfway point of the album. The mid-tempo rock coursing through the background like a slightly-heavier brand of elevator music does nothing to mask just how adult-contemporary this crap really is.
“Tangled Up In You” is an alt-country love song. While the track is almost worth credit to Staind for having the guts to go down a faintly different path, it’s much too analogous to the standard balladry to get too excited about. And those lyrics again! “You're the fire that warms me when I'm cold; you're the hand I have to hold as I grow old,” Lewis cries. The Jonas Brothers have produced more insight.
“The Corner,” which Rolling Stone’s Jody Rosen called “a lush Pink Floyd-style space-rock epic with a full gospel choir” is the definition of the word “clumsy” with its disordered and ridiculous posturing.
And “The Way I Am” is a banal sing-a-long with an anthemic refrain that has Lewis telling us that the way he is happens to be the way he… is?
Much like other pop-rock cornerstones of mediocrity, Staind has an audience and knows it. The Illusion of Progress is geared directly towards those who like their rock on the lighter side and their pop on the heavier side. In terms of torment, emotion, heart, and enthusiasm, Avril’s been able to rally more of it out of one batted eyelash than these guys can out of this monotonous and dreary album.