Review Summary: Three Days Grace's debut is like a hollow chocolate bunny - very satisfying, but ultimately a little shallow.
The definition of what constitutes “radio rock” is proof positive of how concepts can change according to the conjuncture. In the 80’s, the term basically referred to an especially soft brand of AOR, often mixed in with some pop for good measure; in the 90’s, it was used to refer to practitioners of pop/rock, from REM to Soul Asylum; and in the new millennium, it became synonymous with acts like Nickelback, Puddle Of Mudd, Finger Eleven or our subject today, Three Days Grace.
What these groups had in common with their ancestors was the fact that they took a popular style and watered it down, making it more palatable for the average Joe on the street. The 80’s groups worked off an AOR template, the 90’s groups used indie rock as their base, and these millennial groups chose grunge as their stomping ground. The only problem was, according to most music fans, you did not
mess with grunge. The style is revered even today, seeing as it was a musical translation of the frustration felt by 90’s youths, both about their lives, their future, and yes, also their music. Taking away all the genuine rebellion and replacing it with processed angst caused these groups to have almost as many detractors as they had fans – a trend which is observed to this very day.
However, even within the generally mocked scene, some groups were clearly more valid than others. The putrid, bland mediocrity of Nickelback and Creed, the whiny fakeness of Staind and the glorified plagiarism of Puddle Of Mudd were somewhat offset by the songwriting skills of Finger Eleven and the huge, anthemic choruses of Three Days Grace, probably the most divisive band of the genre. In fact, while pretty much everyone agrees that Nickelback are bad, and many are willing to separate Finger Eleven from the pack, mentioning Three Days Grace will probably get reactions split straight down the middle. After all, as good as these guys’ choruses are, they were in a Hillary Duff movie
, for Pete’s sake!
Yes, you read correctly: Three Days Grace’s main boost came when they appeared in the Hillary Duff vehicle Raise Your Voice
, performing one of their songs on-camera. This immediately pegged them as a corporate product aimed at the teen and tween crowd, something which a few listens to their discography will quickly confirm. However, when the music is competent, if a little juvenile, and the songs are actually good, does the group’s intent really matter? After all, we are not talking about Hannah Montana here: Three Days Grace have a little more substance than your average tweenie sensation and yes, even your average “post-grunge” band. And while their peak would come on second album One-X
, their debut does not exactly go to waste, either.
As stated, the sound practiced by TDG is a particularly appealing, yet still moderately heavy, brand of modern rock, culling as much from contemporary new-metal acts as from Nirvana and Alice In Chains, and running it all through a teenage blender. Frontman Adam Gontier’s voice is clear and powerful, sounding like a mix between Scott Anderson of Finger Eleven, Wes Scantlin and quite a few Kurt Cobain leanings. His guitar playing also has a few nods to the Nirvana legend, such as the feedback-laden solo on opener Burn
. The rhythm section, on the other hand, delivers the saturated bass atmospheres and stolid, square beats of a new-metal record, resulting in an all-too-familiar sound.
With originality thrown out the window, it is therefore up to the choruses to distinguish TDG from their peers. And in this field, they succeed. Although the album begins on a huge anti-climax, with slow stomper Burn
almost destroying the listener’s hyped-up mood, it doesn’t take long for the songs to pick up and deliver as expected. Just Like You
and I Hate Everything About You
are both pleasing, if a little on the shallow side, and Home
is probably the best song of the band’s career. Unfortunately, after this strong trio, the album takes a dip again, alternating between captivating songs like Now Or Never
and Wake Up
and rather nondescript, even bad, moments like Take Me Under
or Born Like This
. And while the final result is extremely listenable, one can never shake the feeling of shallowness which settles in.
Part of this feeling is attributable to the lyrics, which are, in a word, poor. Gontier’s tales of teenage drama and fake angst have a few good moments – ”I must be running out of luck/’Cause you’re not drunk enough to f**k”
, but mostly sound like the childish rants of a jilted 8-year-old or, at their worse, an emo 15-year-old’s diary entries. ”Good morning day/sorry I’m not there/all my favorite friends/vanished in the air”
, delivered in a croaky Kurt Cobain husk, is not exactly the recipe for respectability, although it will undoubtedly be very successful with the band’s core audience. Elsewhere the band hit the mark – on the excellent Home
– but even there the references to getting “stoned” and having a fight sound a little like what teenagers want to hear, rather than what Gontier really feels– unsurprising, since all of the material here was co-penned by the group’s producer. The feeling of shallowness is also not helped by the absolutely interminable chorus repetitions, which on more than one occasion turn the songs into little more than gigantic hooks, surrounded by about four semi-nonsensical lines of whiny teenage drama.
Still, as happens so often, it’s hard to stay mad at Three Days Grace. At its best, this album absolutely whales, with songs like Home, Wake Up
or Now Or Never
fixing all of the above problems and coming across as appealing radio-rock anthems. However, the existence of plodding, shallow, silly filler like Scared, Drown
or the turgid Take Me Under
– the worst moment of the album – offsets both the highlights and the respectable backup songs like Let You Down
. Still, the balance is eventually above-average, if just barely, making this a recommendable record for those who don’t mind open commercialism with their rock’n’roll.
Now Or Never