Review Summary: A poppy, unoriginal, repetitive, simplistic, yet strangely enjoyable piece of work. These guys will remain on top of the charts for a while, but somehow they manage to appeal if you look beneath the superficial singles.
Although it may not be as obvious, this album is just as dark as Alice in Chains’ Dirt; a relentlessly bleak and grim record that focuses nowhere but on anger, frustration, sadness, depression and hopelessness. The pop hooks may alleviate the tension, and there’s certainly nothing truly eerie here, but the unending negativity of it all makes this a logical successor to the grunge band. Like superstars such as 50 Cent and Lil Jon who built careers off of seemingly every negative or harmful message they could come up with and sold it on a catchy beat, Three Days Grace have managed to profit from a collage of sorrowful suicidal seething that just happens to bear a nice hook.
The textural and tonal consistency of the record, as well as a slightly less whiny approach to the vocals, distance this band ever so slightly from widely derided rockers like Linkin Park and the utterly contemptible new scene of shrill, overemotional but not emo complainers. (Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, Evanescence, etc.) However, the lyrics plod on through such Shakespearean self-deprecating sentiments as “I hate everything about you” and “this is not a home, I think I’m better off alone” in a monotonous and boring manner. Listening to this record is made truly depressing for a listener long desensitized to this kind of flashy griping when one realizes that this is some of the most popular music around today. It inspires, or to use a more appropriate term, “forcibly provokes” questions about what the hell do kids listen to. When the top 20 records contain repetitive and unrepentant violence, drug use, sexual debauchery, self-loathing and profanity, even a fairly anti-censorship person like myself has to ask themselves: Why is it that the media is so willing to feed impressionable kids such tasteless material? Why do the kids like it in the first place? Were the Beatles as big an influence as everyone claims?
I reluctantly understand why it’s so successful, if we are to assume that people are not inherently attracted to such puerile messages. 75 percent of the songs have at least one good hook, like the squealing guitar riff that kicks off “Scared,” the insistent chorus and haunting intro to “Wake Up,” and the eerie twang that propels the verses of “I Hate Everything About You.” Some don’t, but they rarely slip into filler, at least no more than the other tracks do. The music seems less original due to its almost unbelievable simplicity (I think that pretty much any band that had played for a couple months together could easily cover this album).
However, a few aspects give this a bit more respectability than some of its fellows (although it’s hard to listen to this and not feel guilty, no matter who you are). The darkness of the record is a big plus, already putting the band above its fellows who simply settle for murkiness (Breaking Benjamin, Chevelle) or just plain go for big poppy singles with heavy guitar (Puddle of Mudd, Seether). The band creeps through its more tasteful hooks with a menacing air, and drifts ghostlike over the desolate verses. The band definitely has a sense of texture and ambience that contributes immensely, although the producer’s role in this is uncertain. Big polished singles like “Just Like You” give a slightly inaccurate impression; the band is at its best when they forsake the catchy, rousing choruses for a slightly more atmosphere-based approach. (I do mean slightly- even Trapt makes these guys seem about as ambient as Guns and Roses.) The choruses of “Burn” and “Drown,” the verses of “I Hate Everything About You” and “Now Or Never,” the dangerous drum intro to “Let You Down”- all prime examples of a band that knows how to juxtapose its poppy riffage with something that most bands of this ilk ever achieve, and that is a sense of uncertainty. The predictability of the record in every single other aspect is somewhat alleviated by this element, which helps distinguish it from the pack of alt-metal brooders.
Unfortunately, the instrumentation is unremarkable in every single aspect except for (possibly) the admitted catchiness of what it’s playing. Aside from the chorus of “I Hate Everything About You,” there’s nothing so obviously pop that you cringe (“Pain” on the next album inherited that legacy), although the record is less bearable in that regard in comparison to most bands in this genre, unless you’re still counting Linkin Park. There is no technicality, innovation or unorthodoxy at any time on the instrumental end. Come on, guys, even Hinder does a solo on occasion. Things here are redeemed ever so slightly by the voice of Adam Gontier. His voice was to be better displayed on the follow-up, but here he performs reasonably well, utilizing a versatile array of mutters, croons, screams and yells (even though he’s a long way from expressing emotion with any sort of sophistication).
The product is music so simple and catchy that it seems to have been stolen from elsewhere. Derivative and repetitive it may be, but we all know that one does not have to be low on technical ability to thieve (Avenged Sevenfold, Trivium). The aforementioned atmospheric nature, however light it may be, is quite beneficial. Adam’s voice is pretty good. If you think that the record needs to be redeemed by these good points, you won’t like it. But those who weigh the bad and the good evenly may have a better time. The songs don’t sound similar to one another either, which is always good.
I will concede that most of the hate this band gets is either deserved or understandable. However, there is one song in particular that does not deserve in any way to get lumped in with the silly singles when discussing this band, and that is “Take Me Under.” From the tastefully executed drumming, the wandering guitar riff, and the excellent vocal melodies, to the uncharacteristically proficient and talented performances to match the good songwriting, this song delivers the goods. It is only marginally less predictable than the other songs, but it is much less poppy, much more ominous, and definitely better than anything else the band has done.
In short, Three Days Grace has given us a formulaic and simplistic debut that manages to earn a listen due to a good sense of mood, hooky songwriting, and one excellent moment where everything comes together. Definitely not worth a buy, but worth a bit more investigation than the singles have offered.
NOTE: For fans of Breaking Benjamin, there is a good live performance of “Take Me Under” with their singer sharing vocal duties with Adam as Three Days Grace plays-