If the "next Nirvana" hype loaded on At the Drive In seems unmerited in hindsight, it's because the band never really produced anything but aspirations: ATDI could've been post-hardcore's savior, if only it had made one more album; if only it had waited for screamo (whose roots it pretty much planted) to break; if only it hadn't split into two groups that, while inarguably committed to their respective new directions, can't escape the shadow of possibilities their former band still casts.
It's easy to compare those groups' new albums—The Mars Volta's elaborate, progged-out Amputechture and Sparta's more song-oriented Threes—and assume that ATDI's more creative members wound up in the former. The truth is, they may just have better record collections. Where Amputechture is directionless but at least clever about masking its influences, Threes is directionless and completely predictable, its iPod-era U2 aspirations apparent right down to the bloodless, compressed mix and the banal supporting role of everything but the Bono-esque pipes of singer-guitarist Jim Ward.
New guitarist Keeley Davis, formerly of Engine Down and Denali, perfectly fits the Edge role vacated by ex-ATDI bassist and current Mars Volta member Paul Hinojos. His ringing atmospherics ("Taking Back Control"), effects-driven accents ("Red. Right. Return."), and delicate acoustic passages ("Unstitch Your Mouth") are little more than trampolines from which Ward's vocals can bounce. And bassist Matt Miller and drummer Tony Hajjar dutifully play their Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen roles, keeping a steady backbeat, but otherwise being the members most likely to be Googled by fans asking, "What are their names again?" It's too bad Ward doesn't have the ego to match his voice: For all his self-important posturing, at least Bono seems to stand for something.