Sat 15 Aug 2009
Third Eye Blind
Sony RED Distribution
The last time Third Eye Blind released an album (2003′s Out of the Vein), mp3s hadn’t yet reached the ubiquity brought about by Apple’s iPod success. Six years later, frontman Stephen Jenkins sings that his “mp3 is out of juice” on “Sharp Knife,” from the band’s fourth album, Ursa Major. Much like the rest of the album though, this is just another one of Jenkins’s pseudo-profound observations on life.
As a matter of musical taste, I have always liked 3EB, however the music coming out of Ursa Major is a little more questionable, particularly in comparison to the band’s earlier efforts. Part of this may be reflected in Jenkins’s unusual fascination with L.A.’s kitsch-profundity; part of this may be reflected in the band’s endlessly re-shifting lineup. (n.b.–On Ursa Major, the band has dismissed bassist Arion Salazar.) Thus it stands to highlight some of the reasons Ursa Major doesn’t stack up to the band’s prior ventures.
The album appears to pick off where Vein left off, with most of the ‘heavier’ songs mimicking older songs. Ursa Major opens on a strong note, with the chorus on “Can You Take Me” equating to Vein‘s “Blinded.” But “One in Ten” and “About to Break” have this eerie Counting Crows-like backing track (and is there really a point to any of the lesbian-obsession going on?). They’re both too slow to be able to match even the infamous 90′s rock ballad “How’s it Gonna Be” of 1997′s Third Eye Blind and are almost more like “Wake For Young Souls” and “Self-Righteous” off Vein — both weaker songs.
“Dao of St. Paul” opens with a riff similar to “Thanks A Lot” from the band’s self-titled debut, but the rest of the song fails to hit with the same pungency as the original, heading to a soft choir at the end. Sure, the lyrical content on Ursa Major weaves between the political (“Don’t Believe a Word”) and the amouronarcissistic (“Bonfire”), but maybe that’s part of the problem.
3EB has made some of its most memorable songs when it’s focused on one lyrical dimension (“Semi-Charmed Life” from self-titled or “Never Let You Go” from 1999′s Blue) or on the musical talents of its members (“Darwin” from Blue or “Forget Myself” from Vein). Sadly, Brad Hargreaves and Tony Fredianelli have become background players to Jenkins’s obsession with lyrics. ”Summer Town” and “Why Can’t You Be” are typical 3EB-sounding songs only because they mildly echo of 3EB in a way that goes beyond Jenkins’s vocals.
Stephen Jenkins should have grown and matured “his band,” rather than abruptly try to have his cake and eat it too. It’s now become quite evident that whether we like it or not, 3EB albums are going to be both kitschy 90′s pop-rock and 90′s politballads, completely throwing direction to the wind.