Staind first emerged as a bombastic nu-metal also-ran on Fred Durst's vanity label, but 2001's sophomore album Break The Cycle sold millions on the strength of a sound far more in line with the tuneful internal torment of Alice In Chains than the brash posturing of Limp Bizkit. At a time when the prevailing hard-rock sounds were mostly built around Durst's hedonistic swagger or the gut-wrenching histrionics of Korn and its ilk, Staind's success proved that the moody, minor-key self-flagellation of early-'90s grunge needn't be relegated to the nostalgia circuit just yet. The group's commercially rewarding retreat from faceless, dour metal to faceless, dour modern rock continues in earnest (in more ways than one) on 14 Shades Of Grey, a title that ought to win some sort of truth-in-advertising award. Not memorable enough to be bad, not heavy enough to pack visceral power, most of these songs–even radio-friendly ringers like "So Far Away"–are indistinguishable from the work of a hundred other bands with misspelled names, hotshot producers, plentiful tattoos, and optional silly facial hair. The disc's midsection does feature two notable tributes that say a lot about where Staind and frontman Aaron Lewis are coming from these days: "Zoe Jane," a catchy love ballad written for the singer's daughter, exemplifies the group's ongoing mellowing process, while "Layne," which eulogizes Alice In Chains singer Layne Staley, provides a boldface reminder of the well-worn influences Staind continues to mine. Cliché-intensive but good-hearted, both tracks aspire to more than just riffing and moaning, but the rest of 14 Shades Of Grey blurs together in a nondescript sea of appropriately colorless bluster.
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