I’m going to start this review by saying that I have loved Third Eye Blind ever since I first saw the video for Semi-Charmed Life on MTV back in the summer of 1997. I am still obsessed with their self-titled debut, and I still break out Blue every now and then. Today the band releases its fourth full-length record, Ursa Major, after a six-year gap between LPs.
3EB has found itself in the midst of a renaissance of popularity lately, on websites such as Absolute Punk.net. This flood of adoration prompted “Ultragrrrl” (Sarah Lewitinn) to post a long blog entry basically asking why the band and Stephan Jenkins in particular are suddenly so popular (despite the fact that she admits in the blog to never having really heard anything besides the radio hits). Lewitinn’s blog post instantly spawned a huge, heated argument about 3EB and its place among 1990s bands on AP, which in turn prompted an article in New York Magazine that discussed Ultragrrrl’s post and the firestorm of attention her blog received on Absolute Punk. Got all that?
Ursa Major is being released in the midst of this upswing in popularity, which is kinda weird, considering hardly anyone paid attention when 3EB released the criminally underappreciated Out of the Vein in 2003.
I’m glad they seem to have an audience again, as Ursa Major is vintage Third Eye Blind. Stephan Jenkins really knows how to turn a phrase, and for the most part that is the case with the new tunes. Observe:
“Let’s start a riot, me and you…’cause a riot’s overdue” – Can You Take Me
“If nothing else I am myself – that’s all I have to give” – Bonfire
“Why can’t you be like my Waterpik shower massager – a sweet, reliable machine?” – Why Can’t You Be
"I spent the last three years settin' myself on fire for you" - Dao of St. Paul
There may not be any songs here that are quite as emotionally (or lyrically) powerful as Motorcycle Drive By, Wounded, The Background, God of Wine, or Slow Motion, but that would be too much to expect.
The album starts off with Can You Take Me, one of the more aggressive songs on the album. Next is the album’s first single, Don’t Believe a Word, chock full of power chords and driving rhythms. I’m still not really in love with this track, but it’s a good choice for a first single. It's got a cool video, too.
Bonfire is one of my favorites. The verses have a great melody, and lead into a light chorus that helps the song stand out. The song would be great on the radio.
The next track, Sharp Knife, builds from a slow intro to a chorus that sounds like it could have been written during the Blue sessions. Towards the end there’s also a great short guitar solo that reminded me of the solo in Graduate, one of the gems from the self-titled album.
About to Break is a slower tune that picks up a bit at the end, adding some impressive guitar work from Tony Fredianelli. Lyrically, it seems pretty deep, with more clever wordplay by Jenkins, and being able to read all the lyrics in the booklet will probably help me understand it completely. It’s one of the best songs on the album.
Most of Summer Town is solid, as the song has one of the album’s catchiest choruses, but there are these awkward talk-rap parts book-ending the song (similar to the end of Never Let You Go) that seem a bit out of place.
My only complaint about this album is that too many of the songs employ the ‘soft-intro-that-builds-up-to-a-rock-chorus’ thing that make some of the tunes sound similar at first, but it isn’t too much of a big deal.
Overall, Ursa Major is a great return to form for Third Eye Blind. Those of us who have loved the band since 1997 do so because the songs remind us of our childhood, and instantly create feelings of nostalgia. Their songs definitely take me back to a happy time, and for that, I will always enjoy listening to them.
If you’ve ever enjoyed a 3EB song or album, check out Ursa Major. It’s a great album by a great band that has managed to remain relevant in the twelve years since they burst onto the scene, unlike some of their 1990s peers who just refuse to go away.
Elitist hipster blogs don’t.
UPDATE: there is now another article posted by New York Magazine, this time "defending" Third Eye Blind from all the haters. Check it out, it's a good read, even if it is a bit more satirical than it is complimentary of the band.