The hard-rocking Canucks Three Days Grace from Norwood, Ontario, after what feels like far too long a gap, are back with fresh material in the form of their fourth studio album, Transit of Venus. Sticking to their standard three-year release cycle – Three Days Grace (2003), One-X (2006) and Life Starts Now (2009) – the group, still formidably led by skilled vocalist Adam Gontier, have plucked their album’s name from the headlines: Venus’ visible traverse of the sun on June 5th. The title is fitting in more ways than one; as it is not only timely but with regards to the album in its entirety, which is (pardon the pun) out of this world.
In a number of ways Three Days Grace’s latest is both immensely loyal to the band’s coarse, high-energy style while also moving in some different directions, which include some fascinating guitar rifts evident in their first single Chalk Outline and even a cover of Michael Jackson’s Give In To Me.
After the relative disappointment of Life Starts Now (which more than anything else simply paled as a follow-up to the masterful One-X; an album which still stands as one of the most infinitely replayable modern rock CDs), Transit of Venus has more or less reverted back to the tone of their self-titled debut and first hit I Hate Everything About You. Transit of Venus is angrier and feels almost like a breakup album, though in the best of ways.
Life Starts Now offered up some gripping singles off the bat with Break and The Good Life but their next two releases Lost In You and World So Cold came across more as pop-rock and the remainder of the album failed to offer up anything other than fleeting entertainment value – strong enough as the tracks rolled, but at the same time never able to bore lastingly into the mind. Such is certainly not the case in this entry in the Three Days Grace canon.
The first three tracks of Transit of Venus deliver a sucker punch of adrenaline-charged rock that offer the rare combination of sheer vitality, strong prose, and most importantly, un-manipulative catchiness – you’ll want to cycle through them again immediately. And if you don’t, well, you must be partially dead inside.
Of this trio of impressive tunes, things begin with Sign of the Times, a melancholy, melodious, almost nightmarish track that explodes at the 1:16 mark after a sombrely delivered line by Gontier. The song almost has a feel more akin to something Disturbed would lend their name to but with the distinctive vocals of the lead behind everything, there is no mistaking Three Days Grace has just unleashed musical bliss and we’re in for one hell of an album.
Then, before we can even recover from that initial barrage of stellar rock, comes Three Days Grace’s aforementioned first single Chalk Outline, which right out of the proverbial gate bombards us with one of the most distinctive and addictive opening rifts of the year. Not to be outdone, Chalk Outline shortly after offers up the most memorable and shower-singable (that is now a thing) chorus of the album.
You left me here like a chalk outline
On the sidewalk waiting for the rain to wash away, wash away
You keep coming back to the scene of the crime
But the dead can’t speak and there’s nothing left to say anyway
All you left behind is a chalk outline
There is no question whatsoever as to why the group would have chosen Chalk Outline to be people’s first taste of Transit of Venus, as even if the album as a whole doesn’t radically change the band’s sound, this is a sidestep from their usual product and a deliciously refreshing change of pace that at its core still holds true to their sound.
Things slow down just a hair for The High Road – track number three – a real head-bobber that lyrically comes off as a tad more optimistic (though never less clever than the majority) than their first two songs though it never lets up on the energy level that propels this CD to greatness right off the bat. This is the type of track that upon multiple re-listens in quick succession will immediately be seared into your consciousness. It is a primed candidate for a second single.
The rockin’ good times continue with Operate, a more lyrically straightforward tune that sorrowfully uses its “operation” allegory to tell the story of the demons brought out by the wrong kind of woman. There is little inherently deep in the metaphor but the song is catchy and does nothing to hinder the momentum provided so far by Transit of Venus.
Next is Anonymous, an ultimately interesting track that grew on me after a first listen where I felt the use of the word “anonymous” itself in the chorus was off from a syllabic perspective. However, a few (effortless) loops through the song mostly put to rest any qualms I had with the Three Days Grace’s choices in that department. It’s certainly nitpicking but the quality of material on display is of such a high calibre that it’s all I can do to put my finger on things I don’t like.
From a song writing perspective, the sixth track Misery Loves My Company, is one of my favourite of the album, even if the instrumentals (save the into) are rather by the book if not still extremely solid. The hook on this one is gripping.
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The opposite is true for the next song, a cover of Michael Jackson’s Give In To Me from his 1991 album Dangerous which, being of such an ilk, is nothing remarkable lyrically for the band (props must go to MJ in that regard). But what was one of Jackson’s harder-hitting songs to begin with fits well with Three Days Grace’s sound and, of course, they ramp up the hook. It’s ultimately a good marriage of material and band and though no Smooth Criminal a la Alien Ant Farm, it should please fans of both artists.
The following song, Happiness also has a more unique lead-in for the band and provides quite the opposite (in terms of theme) considering the title. This happiness, as Gontier eloquently puts, is “straight from the bottle.”
The next two songs, Give Me a Reason and Time That Remains, stand as the “low point” in Transit of Venus, neither providing quite the energizing rock of the previous tracks nor the lyrical artistry. There is certainly nothing wrong with breaking up the rhythm of an album, mixing ballads with sheer rock, but these tracks are mostly forgettable in the end.
Naming a song Expectations may be a bit bold, but Three Days Grace certainly did that with track 11 of 13 and the result is a strange but ultimately excellent song that uses a back-beat that almost sounds like a twisted arcade game soundtrack. The rhythm of Expectations is stellar and though the hook is rather simplistic everything about this song rocks.
Gontier explodes right off the bat with Broken Glass, a passionate and caustic entry that is a great example of the front man’s stellar vocal range and with hard hitting guitar and base to keep everything cohesive, it’s readily apparent that Transit of Venus is not going to sink under its own weight.
Things wrap up on a slightly quieter note with Unbreakable Heart. Though that track may have been better placed in the (mild) mid-album lull, with the two songs proceeding Unbreakable Heart – making for a fantastic three-in, three-out bookend – it all adds up to a grin-inducing finale that marks a truly sensational offering from the band.
Personally, I’ve always held Three Days Grace and Finger 11 as companion bands, providing a similar sound but while existing as entirely unique (and immensely talented) entities. Finger 11 tends to include more slower-paced, ballad-style tracks in their albums but with Transit of Venus there are only two levels: rock and rockier. There would be no confusing these two bands whatsoever.
With most songs on Three Days Grace’s fourth donation to the world of North American music running under three minutes (only one track breaks the four minute mark) no songs outstay their welcome. As for the relatively compact tracks, they feel like a cheat in terms of delivering songs of a long enough duration to amp you up. Few rock albums in recent years have gone down quite as smoothly as Transit of Venus.
Fellow Canadian group Billy Talent have already unleashed their own brand of trademark rock their fans with the exceptional Dead Silence. With Transit of Venus we now have two glowing examples that some of the best rock in the world is still coming out of The Great White North.Previous