In 2000, 3 Doors Down's debut The Better Life and its omnipresent single "Kryptonite" authoritatively established the Escatawpa, Mississippi band as rock stars in the vein of fellow new arena rockers Creed. After extensive touring and over 6 million albums sold, it might have been difficult for the band to focus on their sophomore release. But vocalist Brad Arnold, guitarists Matt Roberts and Chris Henderson, bassist Todd Harrell, and new drummer Daniel Adair (who took over to free Arnold from behind the kit) retreated to a rented house in sleepy Escatawpa to jam on ideas and lyrics that had been formulated over long months on tour.
What sophomore slump? Away from the Sun, released in November of 2002, immediately went Gold, and reached Platinum in early January 2003. It's a much more accomplished album than The Better Life, smoothing out most of the rough patches that slowed down the debut. Lead single "When I'm Gone" is a muscular blues-rocker that recalls Kenny Wayne Shepherd -- it's representative of the album's predominantly mid-tempo arrangements that focus on Arnold's contemplative lyrics. He doesn't proselytize like Creed's Scott Stapp, nor does he rely on obvious nu-metal clichés like Saliva's Joey Scott. Instead, Arnold's lyrics lean more towards the first-person confessional style favored by Southern rock mainstays such as the Allman Brothers or Lynyrd Skynyrd. While Universal/Republic might lump them in with the chest-thumpers and active rock doomsayers, Away from the Sun makes it clear that 3 Doors Down are really more comfortable where the sky is always blue.
That said, the band doesn't yet have the hooks to remain consistently interesting for an entire album. Besides the unstoppable melody of the title track, and "Ticket to Heaven," which shows some real songwriting depth in comparison to the band's debut, many of Away from the Sun's 11 tracks sound too similar. It's an accomplished, often rocking, and sometimes genuinely emotional set, but there just isn't enough variety to sustain it. On the plus side, 3 Doors Down and producer Rick Parashar (Pearl Jam, Blind Melon) didn't go overboard on the effects, as can often be the case with sophomore releases. Instead, a string section drifts in and out of a few tracks, with the ballad "Here Without You" benefiting particularly nicely. There's a good chance Away from the Sun is the transition record 3 Doors Down needed to make, in order to separate themselves from the glut of sound-alikes and establish their future as a viable, album-oriented Southern rock act.