Review Summary: Transit of Venus's experimentation displays potential for Three Days Grace to reach new heights, but the band forgets how to write a memorable song in the process.
Since the days of Pachelbel, musicians have relied on the basic chord progression I-V-vi-IV. Beginning on tonic (I) results in perhaps the most familiar sound to a modern listener. This same progression can be simplified into I-IV-I-V-I, a staple in the repertoire of beginning pianists. This progression, which appears frequently in classical compositions’ cadences (ending progressions), is actually more common than the previous one, and the reason is quite clear with a bit of investigation. On any instrument, play the first four chords without playing that last chord. It’s not quite dissonance but you should be bothered by the incompleteness of the progression. Finally playing the ultimate chord gives that musical phrase that satisfying sense of closure. The same is true of the I-V-vi-IV progression--- the tension created by playing a submediant without the subdominant (IV) is what makes that ending chord so sweet.
All of this is absolutely crucial to understanding why Three Days Grace’s latest effort, Transit of Venus
, flops so badly despite substantially better lyrics, some interesting experimentation, and more depth in the form of added synths. The many positives of the album relative to their older effort should be praised, but only because they underscore the pitfalls of the album. No longer does the songwriting and lyric-writing feel so lazy and uninspired. Opener ‘Sign of the Times’ has the most interesting minute of any Three Days Grace song, with interesting lyrics set to an atmospheric background. The intermittent guitar chords and echo on lead singer Adam Gontier’s vocals create a minute unlike anything the band has produced before. But as the fast-paced power chord riffing sets in, the song reverts to the same tired, trite, and dull sound of the band’s previous efforts, and even when the atmospheric verse returns, the song cannot recover.
The problem with Transit of Venus
is not Three Days Grace being lazy but rather that Three Days Grace are simply not good songwriters. Of the album’s six interesting verses, only one song follows through on the potential. ‘Give Me a Reason’ contains an eerie-sounding backing guitar much like Breaking Benjamin’s ‘So Cold’ or Chevelle’s ‘The Red,’ but the chorus does not deliver an effective melody. In specific, Gontier creates tension not unlike the hanging tension of not finishing the vi-IV or V-I cadence, but he never capitalizes on it---the listener never hears that satisfying resolution, instead hearing Gontier sing almost monotone. This same issue plagues almost every hard guitar riff Three Days Grace devises. By virtue of lacking a major or minor quality, power chords allow a band to be ambiguous about the mood, but at the cost of melody. For metal bands, this works well. Three Days Grace is not a metal band. At their best, they create catchy mainstream rock with metal undertones in the vein of early-era Linkin Park. Their overreliance on chugging power chord guitar riffs devoid of any true melodic value suggests the listener a hard rock experience that Three Days Grace isn’t capable of delivering. Power chords have a root and thus can create the same musical tension if used properly---something Three Days Grace has done in the past with ‘Never Too Late’ and ‘Lost in You.’ Bafflingly, the band abandons this in Transit of Venus
to pursue musical gimmicks that simply do not compensate for bad writing.
Despite its dabbling in changing time signatures and subtle synths in an ill-fated attempt to give the song depth, ‘Anonymous’ sounds tedious and trite. Yet right before the final chorus, Gontier tries a key change that results in the catchiest chorus of the album. The guitar plays an actually complete chord progression, and Gontier has enough of an inflection in his singing to create some semblance of a melody. Likewise, ‘The High Road’ is a complete song with a solid verse and a chorus with an actual vocal melody. Gontier actually creates tension when singing that immediately is resolved, allowing the listener to actually enjoy the melody. The one power chord per measure augments this feeling, as it leaves Gontier enough space in the aural field to sing substantive lines. However, these two melodic successes comrpise 1 ¼ songs in a 13-song track. Rather than raising the album to respectability, they only underscore the collective failures of the other nearly 12 songs.
Considering their reliance on hooks, it’s amazing how poorly Three Days Grace executes them. In this regard they have always been hit-and-miss---compare ‘Time of Dying’ to the superior ‘One X.’ But Transit of Venus
manages to strike out on nearly every song. This is particularly unfortunate because the band shows improvement in every other facet. The solo during the final chorus of ‘Give In to Me,’ a cover of Michael Jackson, is well-done; the atmospheric stylings with the increased focus on synths prove successful for the verses; and the lyrics are generally much improved. However, as a whole, the album’s hooks are a far cry from the infectious melodies of ‘Break,’ ‘Animal I Have Become,’ and ‘Never Too Late.’ It would serve Three Days Grace well to consider following the status quo of mainstream artists and use I-V-vi-IV ad nausem, for unoriginal likability is far better than blandness. Ultimately, Transit of Venus
displays potential for the band to grow out of being a dime a dozen band and mature into a band akin to Chevelle. However, in the process of the growth, Transit of Venus
misses the mark completely.