After two multi-platinum albums and six No. 1 singles, ranging from the bouncy singalong "Kryptonite" to the melancholy ballad "Here Without You," 3 Doors Down had become Top 40's preeminent southern rock band. So when the small-town Mississippi group packed up vocalist Brad Arnold's warm drawl and penchant for covering Lynryd Skynyrd's "That Smell" in concert and relocated to Nashville to record its new album, it could have been a sign that it might turn up the twang even further.
Instead, the group enlisted producer Johnny K -- best known for his work with the metal bands Disturbed and Drowning Pool -- to create a sound less like Skynyrd and more like Sabbath. "Seventeen Days" opens with "Right Where I Belong," a 2 1/2-minute blur of blazing riffs and escalating drums. The song lets up only long enough for Arnold to shout, "Go on, play it for us, son," before racing off again in a speeding guitar solo.
The new album by Top 40's preeminent southern rock band, 3 Doors Down, is a feast of blazing guitar riffs along with its trademark quieter sound.
Much of the album maintains that harder edge. The wall of sound in "The Real Life" is interspersed with more restrained choruses, a potential hangover from last summer's tour with grunge/metal kings Nickelback. Arnold's fury bubbles up in "For Today" as he hollers, "God only knows all the places I've been!" over a grinding guitar line.
But the group also shows glimmers of pensiveness. The album's first single, "Let Me Go," meshes a catchy hook with a cynical look at romance ("You love me but you don't know who I am"). Arnold alternates affection with confusion, hinting at his struggle to maintain normal relationships in the face of an isolating schedule.
A few tracks later, "Landing in London" magnifies the challenges of the band's newfound fame. A tale of homesickness that treads a dangerously cliched path made more trite by sappy lyrics ("And when the night falls all around me / and I don't think I'll make it through / I'll use your light to guide the way / 'Cuz all I think about is you"), the song is rescued from tedium after the first chorus, when Bob Seger joins Arnold in a duet. The melding of young and old sheds an eerie glow on the song's lyrics: Seger has known road-weariness for decades, and his experienced voice paints a bleak picture that 3 Doors Down already finds too familiar.
The group breaks from first-person confessions for two notable tracks: Arnold tells a straightforward coming-of-age narrative in "Be Somebody" and rages against the seedy lifestyle of teenage prostitution in "Father's Son."
But the group can't stay angry forever, and despite "Seventeen Days' " metal-laced bang of a beginning, the album ends with a nod to the southern-rock songwriting style that brought 3 Doors Down its popularity. The ballad "Here by Me" is a glimpse back to the sounds of yesteryear: a quiet melody, tender lyrics and a deeply personal vocal delivery.