Cluelessness is 311's greatest asset. That sounds like a backhanded compliment, or maybe just a backhand. In the pre-internet '90s, though, there was pretty much no way for them to know that five positive bros from the corn fields of Nebraska bustin' rhymes about weed and ginseng over chunky guitar riffs and occasionally appropriating reggae rhythms and dancehall slang might not be the best look—other than intuition, perhaps. But that lack of guile has served them well over a career that's lasted close to three decades, building and maintaining a devoted cult of devotees looking to live their chillest lives vicariously through them. And every once in a while, the band's polyglot style congeals into something that's seriously not that bad. No, for real. Here are the five best examples.
1. "Beautiful Disaster"
Although it appears on Transistor, an album of cosmological dub rock that stands as the greatest outlier in the 311 discography, the Omaha-bred brohams' finest moment finds them in their sweet spot, hitting the precise balance of heavy guitars and melodic lightness that often eludes them—and putting the rapping on hold certainly helps.
Again, the band is at its best when it taps an exact mix of crunch and melody, and the leadoff track to sophomore effort Grassroots is the first time it got the balance right. The funk-metal verses open into a cloud-clearing chorus, featuring frontman Nick Hexum waxing nostalgic about a teenage acid trip. And by the standards of 1994, the rapping isn't too embarrassing.
3. "Don't Stay Home"
311's self-titled album went multiplatinum on the strength of the posi-mosh bro-down "Down," but two decades later (geez), this is the single that's aged the best, even if Hexum's advice to "don't break the mold, kid, just eat around it" remains…curious.
4. "Come Original"
All right, so the concept is pretty laughable, with Hexum employing a dancehall patois and shouting out what he considered the artistic vanguard of the late '90s: Mr. Vegas, NOFX, the Black Eyed Peas in their pre-Fergie phase. But if you listen to 311 enough, there's a point where the band's cluelessness trips over into being weirdly charming, and this song is precisely where the line is drawn.
4. "I'll Be Here Awhile"
Sure, it's a ska song recorded long after everyone stopped listening to ska, based on an acoustic-guitar pattern you'd imagine Jason Mraz noodling around with at a beach campfire. This is what 311 is capable of, though—delivering something a band with more self-awareness would never attempt, then leaving it humming somewhere inside you, entirely against your better judgement.
SEE IT: 311 plays Roseland Theater, 8 NW 6th Ave., on Tuesday, Aug. 16. 8 pm. $32.50 general admission, $50 reserved balcony seating. 21+.