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My first introduction to 3 Doors Down (3DD) was by radio. I used to regularly listen to Virgin Radio (before it was renamed Absolute in 2008) on my drive down to Southampton in the days before I could plug my iPod into my car. I seem to be getting resistant to new music as I get older, preferring to play through my extensive collection of established eighties and nineties artists. It's rare for me to pick up on a "new" band these days, however, the single "Here Without You", which received a fair bit of airplay on alternative radio, captivated me enough to think about buying the album "Away From The Sun".
Unfortunately, thinking about it was as far as I got, and it wasn't until a couple of years ago, when I finally got into downloading music, that I decided to cherry pick a few tracks from their back catalogue to see if they were as good as the single I had heard. I was not disappointed, and, in the space of a few short weeks, I ended up acquiring most of their back catalogue. I have been a big fan since.
ABOUT THE BAND
3DD was originally formed in Escatawpa, a small town in Jackson County, Mississippi in 1996 by three friends, consisting of Brad Arnold on vocals, Matt Roberts on guitar, and Todd Harrell on bass. The band's name comes from a broken sign "Doors Down" they saw on a building while on an early tour to neighbouring state of Alabama. Given there were three band members at the time, the added the "3" and the unlikely moniker "3 Doors Down" was created.
Chris Henderson, originally a drummer, but now a second guitar, was invited to join the band to fill out their sound a bit more and the band, now a quartet, released their first studio album "The Better Life" in 2000. The album contained the outstanding track "Kryptonite" which brought them international recognition and catapulted the band into the spotlight. They have since released three further albums - "Away From the Sun" (2002), "Seventeen Days" (2005), and the eponymous "3 Doors Down" (2008). The band have since added Greg Upchurch (formerly the drummer for Puddle of Mudd), who joined the band in 2005.
Apart from leading on vocals, Brad Arnold also acts as the band's main lyricist and songwriter. Their sound has been described in turns as alternative, post-grunge, and southern rock - and there are certainly some elements of Lynyrd Skynyrd and a hint of Pearl Jam their work, so these comparisons do bear scrutiny.
"Away From The Sun" was the band's second studio release, following hot on the heels of the tour following their impressive debut. The album spawned the singles "When I'm Gone", "The Road I'm On", "Here Without You", and "Away from the Sun" all of which achieved top ten chart positions on the US Billboard 100.
The album is also notable for a cameo by legendary guitarist Alex Lifeson (of Canadian prog-rock band Rush) on "Dangerous Game". The UK version (full track listing below) features two welcome bonus tracks - "Popsong" and "Kryptonite" (which originally appeared on "The Better Life") as well as a "hidden" track at the end called "This Time" which is not included on the track listing.
At the time of writing, the album is available as a digital download from Amazon at £4.99 (including the bonus tracks) or in CD form for £5.88. The CD features a fold-out booklet with the song lyrics for the eleven tracks on the original US release (i.e. not for the bonus and hidden tracks on the UK edition).
+ When I'm Gone
The song kicks off the album with some low key. laid back guitars which gently introduce us to Brad Arnold's vocals. Just when you are getting comfortable with the pace, the percussion and chugging electric guitars kick in with the chorus and force you to sit up and take notice. Arnold's vocals are insistent and emotive, but easy to listen to. Two thirds of the way through, we are treated a slightly softer interlude, which once again, is rudely but effectively interrupted by some powerful guitars. It's a captivating opening gambit.
The title of the track is not a reference to a permanent departure or death, but rather a lengthy absence. In asking a significant other to "love me when I'm gone" the singer wants to know that the person unconditionally loves and cares about them when they are not physically there. Although the song has nothing to do with war, the video is dedicated to those serving abroad in the US Armed Forces, and given the lyrics and the sentiment behind the song, it's easy to see why it strikes a chord.
"Everything I am and everything in me wants to be the one you wanted me to be..."
+ Away From The Sun
This is a much more mellow and meandering track than its predecessor, with a haunting melody and drums softly softly taking you through its paces. The song kicks into life with the chorus, injecting some pace and energy. It is well paced and produced, and although it doesn't sound like much the first time you hear it, it slowly grows on you. Arnold was a reluctant vocalist - taking the role of lead singer only because nobody else wanted to do it - but his vocals have an impressive strength, tone, clarity and range.
The song, when you think through the lyrics is actually quite depressing. Rather than offer the listener hope that things will get better, the singer is in fact quite dejected that he has found himself in a hole, a dark place, and not for the first time. Each time he tries to get out of it, someone or something pushes him back down. Eventually, there seems little point in trying to extract himself from his condition. However, despite the subject matter, it's actually quite a pleasant song to listen to.
"I'm tired of living in the dark. Can anyone see me down here? The feeling is gone - there is nothing left to lift me up back into the world I know. And now again I've found myself so far down, away from the sun that shines into the darkest place..."
+ Ticket to Heaven
This is another energetic track that starts off in deceptively relaxed mood before a charged , driving and repetitive chorus takes it to another level. It has a snappy and catchy melody with some guitar work about two thirds of the way through which is a little reminiscent of Creed and Alter Bridge. Arnold's vocals clearly belie his southern roots, but rather than being distracting, they give the song more charm and authenticity. The song seems to be about facing the consequences of your actions and taking responsibility for who you are and what you do.
"All they gave me was this ticket to heaven, but that that ticket to heaven said to lie in the bed that you make..."
+ Here Without You
This was the song that first got me into 3DD, and years later, it is still my favourite track from the band. A good old-fashioned rock ballad, it starts off simply with plucked guitars accompanying Arnold's lyrics. As the song develops, the strings kick in, adding depth and atmosphere, before the bass line and then soft percussion start building the song, brick by brick into a powerful paen to loneliness, being away from someone and missing them dearly. Such is the quality of this well-put together song that it practically demands repeated listens. The earnest vocals, dripping with raw emotion, only add to the beauty of this track. It stands head and shoulders above the rest of the album and, in my biased view, rivals "Kryptonite" for the best thing 3DD have ever recorded.
"Everything I know and anywhere I go, it gets hard but it won't take away my love. And when the last one falls, and when it's all said and done, it gets hard but it won't take away my love..."
+ Dangerous Game
This is one of three tracks that Alex Lifeson (of Rush) produced and played guitar on, but it's the only one that made the final cut onto the album. It follows the pattern of a few other songs on Away From The Sun with a soft intro followed by a high tempo chorus, and, as you would expect, there is a fair bit of virtuoso guitar work at various intervals during the song. That said, it's more of a curiosity to me because of Lifeson's cameo and isn't particularly memorable. On the face of it, the song appears to be about a gunfight - but knowing the band, it's likely to be a metaphor for something else - exactly what I do not know.
"You reach for your metal as I reach for mine. The sound of bullets flyin' through the air, is followed by a cry..."
It seems almost a cheat to include this song in this review as it originally appeared on 3DD's debut album. However, as one of three extra tracks on the UK release, it is certainly fair game and a very welcome bonus. The track kicks off with a strummed guitar and a skippy little snare drum beat (which drives the track for the duration) before Arnold's slightly distorted vocals (with ever so slightly evident southern accent) kick in. It's an excellently composed and constructed track that has a toe-tapping quality to it. It stays in your head long after its finish.
Remarkably, Arnold wrote the song when he was only fifteen but you would not know it from the maturity of the lyrics, which belie that callow age. The song is posed as a question to a friend - the singer asks, "when I'm down, will you be there to pick me up?" and conversely, "if I am doing well, will you be there to support my success?". The references to the "dark side of the moon" and "kryptonite", are not lazy pop culture references to Pink Floyd and Superman respectively, but are meant as metaphors.
"If I go crazy then will you still call me Superman? If I'm alive and well, will you be there holding my hand?"
As mentioned, I bought the album on the back of "Here Without You", which, far from being representative of the band's sound, is quite unlike most of the other tracks on the album which are much harder and rockier than this standout ballad (if you remember Eighties band "Extreme", it's a little like buying a whole album of theirs on the back of "More Than Words".).
That's not to say the other tracks are bad - some of them are brilliant. Of the ones I haven't picked out, "The Road I'm On" and "Running Out of Days" are especially noteworthy. However, my main complaint is that, after a while, they all seem a bit samey, especially at the back end of the album. Without doubt, the standout tracks (the first six, plus Kryptonite) are well worth buying the album for, I just wish they could have mixed it up a bit more. Soft intro with powerful chorus and guitar chords seems to be the band's MO, but to be fair, they do it quite well.
The album doesn't seem to have a coherent central theme - various moods, issues and emotions are explored in its sixteen tracks and the songs pretty much stand or fall by themselves. That makes it easy to dip in and out of, or to cherry pick the tracks you like without the risk of losing any greater message.
If you like power rock with a hint of grunge and a down home, small town flavour, then you'll love 3DD and you could do much worse than invest in this album. The musicianship is accomplished, the songs are well put together and full of energy, and the lyrics are well conceived. Recommended.
FULL TRACK LISTING (UK Edition)
When I'm Gone (4:20)
Away from the Sun (3:51)
The Road I'm On (3:59)
Ticket to Heaven (3:27)
Running Out of Days (3:31)
Here Without You (3:57)
I Feel You (4:07)
Dangerous Game (3:36)
Going Down in Flames (3:28)
Sarah Yellin' (3:17)
Pop Song (3:12)
This Time (5:18 - Hidden Track - Begins after 30 seconds of silence)
© Hishyeness 2010
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 When I'm Gone
2 Away from the Sun
3 Road I'm On
4 Ticket to Heaven
5 Running Out of Days
6 Here Without You
7 I Feel You
8 Dangerous Game
10 Going Down in Flames
11 Sarah Yellin'
Disc #2 Tracklisting
1 When I'm Gone [DVD]
2 Away from the Sun [DVD]
3 Road I'm On [DVD]
4 Ticket to Heaven [DVD]
5 Running Out of Days [DVD]
6 Here Without You [DVD]
7 I Feel You [DVD]
8 Dangerous Game [DVD]
9 Changes [DVD]
10 Going Down in Flames [DVD]
11 Sarah Yellin' [DVD]
12 [Surround Sound] [DVD]
13 When I'm Gone [DVD][Version]
14 Away from the Sun [DVD][Version]
15 Road I'm On [DVD][Version]
16 Ticket to Heaven [DVD][Version]
17 Running Out of Days [DVD][Version]
18 Here Without You [DVD][Version]
19 I Feel You [DVD][Version]
20 Dangerous Game [DVD][Version]
21 Changes [DVD][Version]
22 Going Down in Flames [DVD][Version]
23 Sarah Yellin' [DVD][Version]
24 Road I'm On [DVD]
25 Bonus Material [DVD][*]