It’s hard to remember now, but Finger Eleven has done more than just release “Paralyzer” and write subpar records about being a dad or whatever Five Crooked Lines and Life Turns Electric were about. Yes, at one time, Finger Eleven were releasing albums that were far more interesting and fit well inside whatever genre they wanted to go into, and for proof, may I present 1997’s album Tip.
Technically this isn’t really a “first record,” as the band had released Letters to Chutney two years prior under Rainbow Butt Monkeys and changed it (without label interference, if you can believe it) to Finger Eleven.
Tip represented a push from the band to jump fully into the alt-rock / grunge movement that had been the dominate sound on rock radio of the 90s, something I listened to religiously, and truth be told, it’s hard to definitely put a finger (ha, pun) on what it was that drew me to the band. I guess one of the differences was the oddities contained within their songs, particularly in the rhythm section, something that is even hinted at on the front cover with a human metronome front and center.
The album starter and the lead single off the record, “Quicksand”, has an odd, almost out of time syncopation to the drums, and has a couple of drop outs of all or most instruments, which at the time, was not something readily seen on radio tracks. This continues with most of the tracks on the album; unlikely drum beats, sudden drops in musical themes, building crescendos; a seemingly unpredictable set of waves crashing in and out of time with one another. Basically, if you’re looking for an easy to follow flow, this will not be something that you gravitate to, but at the same time, this isn’t nearly as spastic as, say, a System of a Down record.
This is of course not to say the record is perfect by any means. The end, particularly “Temporary Arms” and “Swallowtail”, feel a bit tacked on, and don’t really give the listener a satisfying conclusion. Truthfully, although the general atmosphere of the record is present, the album doesn’t feel like it totally syncs together.
Of course, this foray into alt-rock would eventually culminate into a more “nu-metal” sound with Greyest of Blue Skies, which I guess is fitting with the evolution of how music on mainstream rock radio evolved, but again, Finger Eleven was able to put their own spin on it, making a more thoughtful record than one might expect: more of a Deftones than a Limp Bizkit. This trend of constantly evolving and putting their own spin on whatever genre they were doing at the moment would continue onto the subsequent records making them, in my mind at least, one of the more interesting “radio rock” bands that Canada has ever produced, and one of the most under mentioned as well.
This leaves me to ask, “Why is this record not more known and respected?” Is it because “Paralyzer” was played incessantly for a time? Is it because other bands like Our Lady Peace were also vying for attention at the same time? Or perhaps it’s just a failure of the audience of the time to connect with what was on offer. I myself only really started taking the album seriously after running my Greyest of Blue Skies record into the dirt, hence the lower 90s score you see at the top.
Maybe… just maybe… it was us who were wrong the whole time.
Written by Andrew Wieler
*Edited by Chris Aitkens