The rap on 311 almost precedes the band’s fame and music themselves. Short of getting into all of the neuroses and gallows commentaries I typically find around them, I’ll just suffice in this instance to call them divisive. On one hand, they have a festival dedicated to them, “311 Day,” in New Orleans, which is a city removed both from their place of origin (Omaha) and their eventual base as a recording act (LA). On the other hand, uh, lots of people just hate them.
And now I can feel myself approaching this weird, deconstructive realm whereby I know everybody knows music isn’t as good as it once was, but so many people are still operating within this mechanism of a priori logic unto which the clear conclusion that music has devolved would be so, so harmful and offensive. But the whole point of this post, basically, is to show how substantial and groovy certain songs could be back in the age of CD-buying, only to be met with sheer spite and antipathy. Tim Sommer’s article “Collective Soul: Attention Must Be Paid” is a great illustrator of this, as well, of course, as being evidence of the pompousness of academia to assume everyone had been as dismissive and ignorant of Collective Soul’s greatness in the ’90s as they were. I mean, they had two mega-hit singles off that one album alone, after all.
Today my unwitting victim is “You Wouldn’t Believe” by 311. “You Wouldn’t Believe,” despite sharing an album with “Amber,” was actually the lead single released on From Chaos (2001). From what I understand, “Amber” is the band’s biggest hit to date, so this is certainly an ironic fact — actually, “Amber” was the third and final single from the album, following “I’ll Be Here a While,” as well, hence suggesting that it came close to not being released at all, and probably seeing two-thirds of the band’s worldwide, lasting popularity truncated.
Now, I know I’m going to sound like a snob here, but the record label and band knew what they were doing. “You Wouldn’t Believe” is a way better song than “Amber” — it’s got a killer opening guitar riff, it “rocks” in a way that isn’t cutesy or designed for a dentist’s office, it’s a more rhythmic, dynamic tune and the vocals are even more genuine.
Beyond that, even, the lyrics represent an alarming take on maligned romance, depicting a dude who undergoes a breakup. In the song’s tale, the end of the relationship devastates the man’s entire life, in a sense: “I don’t think he even knows / He’ll never be fine”. This fatal quip is then juxtaposed strikingly with a bevy of epithets dedicated to the protagonist: “And he’s got a head full of ideas / Lemme tell ya / That you wouldn’t believe / And he’s got / A heart made of pure gold / Something’ else / With many tricks up his sleeve / You might think he’s a jester / ‘Cause he’ll make you laugh to you cry / You better come with your best if you test him / Unless you’re ready to die”. It’s the type of song that should forge a lasting niche in our culture. It’s completely unique, haunting and superb, and what’s more, it ROCKS in a way that’s intrinsic to the band’s DNA, not requiring an excessive amount of production or sonic fabrication to send its message.
“You Wouldn’t Believe” did, at least, grace the band’s best-of compilation Greatest Hits ’93-’03, so it’s not like it’s been completely buried by time, I suppose. It’s indubitable, though, that this song has not gotten its due amount of attention and acclaim, and part of the reason of course could be that this album in general isn’t typically held as overly important, despite what’s really a pretty consistent sequence of grunge rock and psych-pop, all throughout. 2001 also still represented the era when anything popular was considered fake and watered down. Needless to say, we do not have this problem today, when a band can come up with one single hook, like “Texas Sun,” and not only have it balloon into an entire song, but see that song catch like wildfire as if it’s some de facto messianic anthem.
Addenda: Doug Martinez’ Rap Verses
For some reason, in all my days listening to “You Wouldn’t Believe” and thinking about it, I’d always mentally discard the little rapping interludes that Doug Martinez adds to the track, one after each of the first two choruses. And the truth is, upon hearing them again, I don’t think they really belong there, although the Martinez rapping/Nix Hex singing dichotomy works great in “Down,” I’d say. And I still don’t think this raps ruin “You Wouldn’t Believe,” necessarily, but it’s possible that they bring it down to being a little less than the classic it should be. In light of all this, I’d say, “You Wouldn’t Believe” is rivaled for best song on From Chaos by the title track, whereas “Flowing” and “Give Me a Call” would be clear-cut champions of the band’s albums directly preceding and following, respectively. It’s interesting, anyway, to think about the heights to which “You Wouldn’t Believe” could have soared, if Nicholas Hexum would have had the fortitude to call it his own project.
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