Staind Finally See The Light, Thanks To Zoe Jane

Band moves away from darkness of earlier albums with new LP, 14 Shades of Grey.

When heart-on-sleeve hard rockers Staind started out, their world was painted jet black. Their 1996 debut, Tormented, was just that, and 1999′s Dysfunction wasn’t much brighter. As time passed, the band gradually lightened up a bit, and on its new album, 14 Shades of Grey, frontman Aaron Lewis is starting to see a flickering light at the end of the long, dark tunnel.

Sure, he’s still got issues, but now he recognizes them and tries to cope. And for the first time, he takes some time to address the blessings in life.

“I’m a father and I’m married and have a family, and it’s hard to not see the good things now,” Lewis said before a Boston in-store appearance. “I suppose in some of the songs that shows.”

The most positive song on 14 Shades of Grey is “Zoe Jane,” an “It’s Been Awhile”-paced ballad that Lewis wrote about his daughter. In the song, an acoustic guitar rings through a sparse beat, and the singer croons, “I want to hold you/ Protect you from all of the things I’ve already endured.”

“My daughter Zoe was born the day [Alice in Chains frontman] Layne [Staley] died,” Lewis said. “I say that in the song, but Zoe is a song to let her know how much her coming into this world has done for me.”

Fate works in strange ways. Not only was Alice in Chains one of Staind’s biggest influences, but when Lewis was growing up Staley was his major source of inspiration, which is why Lewis felt compelled to write “Layne,” a tribute to Staley, who died last year of a drug overdose (see “Layne Staley Died From Mix Of Heroin, Cocaine, Report Says” ).

” ‘Layne’ came out from my disappointment with the whole industry in letting Layne’s death go somewhat unnoticed,” Lewis said. “There was never a tribute show put together or anything to celebrate his life and his death. He was such an influential singer and songwriter, and pretty much every vocalist that’s out there right now that listened to that type of music has been influenced by him. But his death was kind of a non-event. It was almost like everyone went, ‘Oh, another rock and roll junkie died. Let’s move on.’ That was really sad to me.”

In addition to the lyrical shift, 14 Shades of Grey is also more musically developed. Structurally, it’s similar to the band’s multiplatinum 2001 album, Break the Cycle, but it’s even more polished and melodic (see “New Staind LP Marked By Grey Matters” ).

“All and all, the record’s more musical,” guitarist Mike Mushok said. “The songwriting’s better and I think the songs are just stronger. We worked real hard on this one to get it to the point where it’s listenable from beginning to end. It took a lot of work, but I think we got there.”