Since the release of their sophomore effort (major-label debut) Dysfunction, Staind has shown the trend of losing heaviness in favor of more melody. This trend continued on Break the Cycle. Not surprisingly, 14 Shades of Grey is once again the most melodic, least heavy and newest Staind record to date.
Not to say that’s a bad thing, in and of itself. The melodies, as always, are for the most part catchy and well-written. Voice-wise, Aaron Lewis is in top form on this record, and that alone makes it worth purchasing.
Perhaps the only exception is the track “Layne,” obviously a tribute to the late Alice in Chains vocalist Layne Staley. Lewis tries to imitate the vocal harmonies of the defunct group, but his voice does not sound as haunting as Staley’s when overdubbed on itself in the same fashion.
It is a well-done tribute in terms of evoking the memory of the AIC singer, but it does not fit with the rest of the CD. The rest of the CD is pretty homogenous, though, so perhaps it’s good just for variety’s sake.
The biggest negative aspect to the record is the lack of variety in song topics. Thankfully, the themes are not quite as oppressive as on previous releases-some tracks are actually about being OK psychologically-but the vast majority of the record is still dedicated to being depressed. Hopefully, on future releases, song topics will further diversify.
Another problem with 14 Shades of Grey is that Mike Mushok’s guitar style is getting a bit clichéd: arpeggios for the soft, clean verses and sustained, distorted power/suspended chords for the louder but melodic choruses. Here and there, he still throws in a riff or an interesting two-guitar part, and his style serves as a good backdrop to the vocals, but perhaps more riffs or a solo here and there would be less predictable.
Essentially, Staind are beginning to settle into a routine on this record. It is a bit less heavy than Break the Cycle, but the themes and guitar style are basically unchanged. It is catchy and worth purchasing, but hopefully they will evolve in a new direction in the near future.