It was very reasonable to assume that Finger Eleven had totally sold out years ago. Back in 2003, the success of “One Thing” – a mid-tempo, melancholy and balladesque number found in the late-playing of the band’s fourth album – dangled the gold-plated chain of pop prosperity before the group and they took it. After that, they jumped from point to point in the musical spectrum several times on the albums which followed (disco-rock for “Paralyzer,” skeezy pop rock on “Living In A Dream,” bargain-basement-caliber U2 balladry on “Whatever Doesn’t Kill Me” and full-blown Top 40 slop on “Stone Soul”) and held onto the links for dear life because the band knew that, if they lost their grip on it, they could easily be lost forever.
It was a little heartbreaking to watch, but Finger Eleven was rewarded with Gold albums and awards as they simultaneously alienated a lot of the old guard fans they’d made before the turn of the millennium. Those fans, for their part, accepted that they had lost a great band and moved on resignedly – until the lead single from Five Crooked Lines appeared on the radio and stirred the pot. It was true that some of the groovy, dancy drive which had powered “Paralyzer” also played a role in “Wolves And Doors,” but the guitars had more crunch and singer Scott Anderson was showing more teeth than he had in years. This new promise implied new possibilities and excitement began to build for Finger Eleven in their old guard fan base again.
…And as it turns out, “Wolves And Doors” is the lightest track on the album. From the moment Finger Eleven opens Five Crooked Lines with “Gods Of Speed,” the band illustrates how deeply they’ve been digging back into their roots by blasting out some genuine, gutteral rock tones with a potent, anthemic mix of power, muscle and passion. There, guitarists Rick Jackett and James Black unleash a blistering and heavy sound of a sort not heard from Finger Eleven since they were still called Rainbow Butt Monkeys while new drummer Steve Modella and bassist Sean Anderson ground that sound onto a craggy but rock solid base. That start is great and exciting, but the real cherry on top is Scott Anderson’s vocal. For the first time in years, Anderson really seems to push his voice to near its breaking point. In lines like “I’ll go from here to top velocity/ From here it’s all eternity,” it’s possible to hear the strain but, instead of making listeners question if his voice is beginning to suffer with age, the ragged edge sound like something listeners may want to grab and be pulled along by. It’s beautiful.
Needless to say, the instrumental sound that Five Crooked Lines starts with will capture listeners’ attention right away, but the band will hold them captivated as they don’t let or lighten up as the record continues. Particular standout tracks “Save Your Breath,” “Blackout Song,” and “Absolute Truth” all ride the same dark, harrowing, muscular and moody trails as “Gods Of Speed,” but each rolls along in such an undeniable way that the going never gets samey or boring. The change-up tracks “Come On Oblivion” and “A New Forever” (which both touch a Pink Floydian, methodical space rock tip) ensure that it never gets forgettable, either. In fact, that this album really only has two speeds and DOESN’T break focus or stride feels great; on Five Crooked Lines, listeners are made to feel as though Finger Eleven knows it has something to prove and so buckles down and just DOES IT. There’s not the slightest impression that the band would like to divert into some back alley, they just remain in listeners’ collective face for forty-eight minutes and then waste no time getting the hell out in the end. There’s nothing indulgent about this album, it’s just that simple.
And simple proves to be inspiring, in this case. After listeners run front-to-back with Five Crooked Lines the first time, they’ll have been sold and will just keep playing through the album again and again not because they might feel as though they missed something, just because it sounds that good. That Finger Eleven has produced something like that (good and simple) really means something, in this critic’s opinion. True, the band has been around, but they’ve come back here not because they needed to but because they wanted to. They did it because it felt right to them and, in listening, listeners will be able to agree that it feels right to them too.