It’s not just that 3 Doors Down is the wimpiest band in what passes for hard rock. The material on their fifth album, “Time of My Life,” would seem just as milquetoast transplanted to a less aggressive genre.
You imagine country artists rejecting this material as too corny, Christian pop singers snubbing it as too inspirational and “American Idol” finalists begging for coronation songs with a little more edge.
Not that you’d want to accuse them of being formulaic, God forbid. But for nearly the entirety of its length, “Time of My Life” alternates odd-numbered up-tempo quasi-rockers with even-numbered power ballads. What all these tunes have in common is that the band is working so hard at being both female- and radio-friendly that they never sound like they’re having the slightest lick of fun.
Only on the 12th and final number, when they trade the ballad that should by rights go into that slot for the honestly fast and ferocious “Believer,” does 3 Doors Down sound like it set out to have a good time instead of a hit.
All the care that went into making the album as bland and inoffensive as possible may have been for naught. The leadoff single, “When You’re Young,” wasn’t much of a smash, despite appealing to younger fans with a first-person account of how hard it is to be a teenager — an empathetic approach that worked back when Alice Cooper was doing “I’m Eighteen” but just comes off as demographic pandering from these thirtysomething rockers.
The second single, “Every Time You Go,” takes a more pounding approach, presumably to remind remaining male fans that 3 Doors Down likes to rock at least a little, despite more or less borrowing its key chorus line (“Every time you go, you take a part of me with you”) from an old Paul Young ballad.
If “When You’re Young” is about how impossibly tough adolescence is, plenty of the other songs deal with something even harder: the life of the itinerant rock star. “I always call to say I’m sorry/You say it’s okay/Through it all you never walk way,” sings Brad Arnold in the hoariest slow-dance song, “Heaven.” “I didn’t have to die to go to heaven — I just had to go home.” Somewhere, even Rascal Flatts is going into sugar shock.
Other road anthems are more self-serving and breakup-justifying. “The night gets dark, I get wild/I can’t help that that’s my style,” Arnold announces in “On the Run,” in the closest pass at naughtiness here. In “My Way” (not the Sinatra song), Arnold dumps a significant other and explains, “You will never be like me,” which presumably is a bad thing.
The subgenre that 3 Doors Down works within, best exemplified by Chris Daughtry and Nickelback, is a bit of a shell game: Think garden-variety ‘80s-style arena rock, but barely disguised as something more modern and angsty, thanks to the addition of post-grunge guitar sounds and growling in place of the old hair bands' high-pitched wailing.
But the era when rock as determinedly bland as this could go six-times-platinum, as 3 Doors Down’s decade-old debut album did, is late and largely unlamented.
If these guys are really having the time of their life right now, as the title track contends, it’s because they invested wisely.