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Third Eye Blind - Third Eye Blind Music Album Reviews

Third Eye Blind - Third Eye Blind Music Album Reviews
Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today, we revisit a shining jewel of ’90s pop-rock, an album full of melodies, amphetamines, and hubris.

At their first New York label showcase in 1996, in front of music mogul and Arista label head Clive Davis, Third Eye Blind performed songs from their catalog of demos as frontman Stephan Jenkins whacked at a piñata. When it finally broke, live crickets rained down on the industry executives in the audience. At the time, Third Eye Blind were fielding a half-dozen inquiries from major labels and had a rockstar mentality to match, demanding Anchor Steam beer at meetings as a performative signifier of hometown San Francisco pride. Jenkins, never one to pass up an opportunity to put smug superiority over success, intended the stunt to symbolize a Biblical plague (crickets were the closest he could find to locusts on short notice) but it’s doubtful the insects or the suits picked up on his deeper meaning before they scrambled out of the room. “​​Everybody was upset, including the crickets,” Jenkins said later. The band left without a record deal.

Third Eye Blind built their reputation on these imperfect metaphors. The cricket legend fit a band with a built-in God complex, a band who would walk into an opening slot for Oasis a few days after the piñata incident simply because they told another label, Epic, that they deserved it. That a barely known, unsigned quartet got an encore as openers spoke to their natural fit alongside the great melodicism and even greater egos of the Gallagher brothers.

The level of attention Third Eye Blind received from labels without even an EP to their name reflected the bullish state of the music industry in the pre-Napster peak of the 1990s: CD sales continued to rise, growing by a billion dollars or more year over year. After months of courtship, the band finally signed with Elektra for $1.2 million, a deal reported at the time as the biggest ever for an unsigned act. The band accepted after the label agreed to let Jenkins produce the debut. “I really felt like they gave us their trust,” he later explained.

The outsized label interest also signaled growing demand for Third Eye Blind’s specific sound. Their hooks and clean vocals stood in contrast to the prevailing sound of grunge, which had reached peak cultural saturation by the middle of the decade. Acts like Bush and Stone Temple Pilots had taken the sound of the downtrodden and down-tuned and plastered it over magazine covers and Billboard charts, while Naomi Campbell modeled beanies and flannel for Vogue. In response, a slow but steady reemergence of earnest pop-rock—and a broader return of the brighter sounds and styles of the ’70s—was already well underway when Third Eye Blind made their debut: The Wallflowers, Goo Goo Dolls, and Counting Crows paved the way for a melodic revival with the softest of edges. Jenkins, with a passionate if pitchy falsetto, was a perfect foil to grunge, which he declared too “safe” for his taste: “Nobody really makes a statement,” he lamented. “It’s this self-imposed angst and you’re playing this raw way, but you’re not trying to play well.”

Though the music press painted Third Eye Blind as an overnight success, their path to a debut album began several years prior, in the Bay Area scene of the early ’90s. Jenkins, the son of a political science professor, graduated with top honors from UC Berkeley in 1988. He grew up on the Sugarhill Gang and early hip-hop, and by 1992, he formed the rap duo Puck and Natty with Detroit rapper Herman Anthony Chunn. They managed to get one perfectly raunchy song, “Just Wanna Be Your Friend,” onto the Beverly Hills, 90210 soundtrack and attracted interest from Capitol. Jenkins sought creative control above all else, even the possibility of a record deal, and the duo broke up over production disagreements with the label. But before they disbanded, Chunn wrote the guitar riff that would grow into Third Eye Blind’s inescapable hit “Semi-Charmed Life.” In a move that foreshadowed his own beliefs about song ownership and creative control, Jenkins bought his use of the tune from Chunn for $10,000.

“Semi-Charmed Life” sounds like feeling the sun on your skin after a long winter. The opening snap of the drums, the ringing power chords, and the wordless refrain seem to beam down from some impossibly halcyon era, as if Cheap Trick suddenly became the house band for Schoolhouse Rock. But even a cursory listen to the lyrics reveals a much darker story about addiction, sex, and desperation—“I took the hit that I was given and I bumped again” is pretty straightforward. The song’s popularity may have been slightly surprising to the band: “​​It’s about crystal meth and oral sex,” Jenkins commented. “We can’t even believe it got onto the radio.” But his rap-singing, a carryover from his Puck and Natty days, fit comfortably next to similar syncopation from other bands on MTV and alternative radio playlists, like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sublime, and Cake.

Those opening “doot doot doots” were a reference to another wayward tale, Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side.” Where Reed was enmeshed with the downtown New York junkies, Jenkins found himself witness to a crippling speed epidemic among his peers in the Lower Haight neighborhood of San Francisco. “I thought of my life at the time, I thought of Lou Reed and how I thought Lou Reed had nothing on the way that we were living,” he later said. And just as John Cale’s viola embodied the grim embrace of heroin, the unrelenting hooks of “Semi-Charmed Life” were meant to sound like amphetamines—“bright and shiny on the surface, and then it just pulls you down in this lockjawed mess,” Jenkins explained. As he described it, the song was his brainchild—the result of years toiling away in the open mic scene, tinkering with it, even performing an early version for 4 Non Blondes singer Linda Perry when they were both down-on-their-luck musicians. Newly purchased riff notwithstanding, Jenkins couldn’t nail the crux of the song on his own; with an ironic band name and sensationalist lyrics in hand, he went looking for the people who would help him grow it into a hit.

Jenkins tried to build out Third Eye Blind with a few guitarists before eventually meeting Kevin Cadogan at one of Jenkins’ shows. The two began to flesh out their first demos across studios in the Bay Area over the next three years. If Jenkins had the relentless ambition and unctuous wit, Cadogan brought the musical heft and compositional wizardry. He’d trained with instrumental rock legend Joe Satriani from a young age, then left the world of classical guitar for the local ska and punk scene as a teen. For a while, Cadogan and Jenkins wrote and performed as an acoustic duo, fleshing out Jenkins’ rap-singing with bigger chords and a stronger groove. Their bassist, Arion Salazar, had carved out a similarly modest reputation as a member of Fungo Mungo, a major-label funk metal band. After cycling through a cast of drummers, Third Eye Blind rounded out their lineup with jazz percussionist Brad Hargreaves. Together, Cadogan estimated that the band wrote “80 percent” of its self-titled debut before they even signed to Elektra.

Third Eye Blind opens with a single arpeggiated guitar, a deceptively quiet start to an album of wailing breakdowns and breathless choruses. It’s not the most complicated or even most well-known passage on the album—on a record with so many standout riffs, there are more than a few contenders—but those four measures on “Losing a Whole Year” were the first of many battles between Jenkins’ hoarse yelps and Cadogan’s whirring reverb. The final note in the solo is swallowed by a wave of feedback and falsettos, before Jenkins’ voice, moody and gnarled, crashes onto the scene: “I remember you and me used to spend/The whole goddamn day in bed.” Like equal but opposite forces, they keep the record in balance, never tipping too far into the indulgences of the guitar hero or the self-aggrandizing troubadour.

Cadogan, with his decade of formal guitar training, added nimble melodies that seemingly multiplied the band’s lead guitarists. With his penchant for non-standard tuning and flexible pinkies, he wrote “Narcolepsy” to be played as one part, but it’s hard to believe it from the twinkling harmonies in the intro. For the opening chords of “How’s It Going to Be,” Cadogan uses an autoharp, a small 36-string zither that adds an essential, almost imperceptible chime to his strumming. There is hardly a wasted moment of melody—even deeper cuts like “The Background” spin every instrumental into wispy wonders. It was this obsessive experimentation on a familiar format, balanced by a healthy dose of distorted snot rock, that elevated Third Eye Blind above a crowded field of bands in rimless sunglasses whining about loneliness. In an increasingly electronic alternative landscape, it was a reminder of the slightly transcendent qualities of a well-played, well-recorded guitar solo. Sure, crystal meth will lift you up—but Cadogan’s dulcet strumming was a steadier kind of high.

But open tunings and intricate noodling alone couldn’t turn Third Eye Blind into an international sensation. It was Jenkins’ accidentally profound simplicity—a directness that could only come from total confidence in one’s own brilliance—that carried their tunes into the dorm rooms, minivan CD changers, and mixtapes of the masses. While his ego made him more than a few enemies, it made even well-worn emotions feel pressing and huge. It’s not so much that Jenkins was a relatable lyricist—“Jumper,” about talking a friend down from suicide, reads objectively like it was written by someone who has never experienced depression. But with his slight lisp and awkward enunciation, he was heartbreakingly present, like a youth pastor who genuinely thinks a guitar and a good heart is all it takes to reach Jesus. When he belts out “I would understand,” Jenkins really believes his words can save a life—and isn’t it a little cathartic to bask in that hope with him?

Jenkins’ lyrics fought, kicking and screaming, against anxiety and alienation. Third Eye Blind was an antidote to cynicism or numbness in the face of crisis. The band would often cover “Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want” in concert, and by all reports it was a total massacre of the Smiths. This seems, in hindsight, like an obvious mismatch—Jenkins is incapable of Morrissey’s all-consuming self-loathing. When Jenkins sang “Let me get what I want,” it was with the belief that he’d actually get it. His lyrics are unrelentingly lucid; they imply that the only way out is through. “When you start talking I hear the Prozac,” Jenkins sneers on “Losing a Whole Year,” as if he felt personally betrayed that his ex would seek pharmaceutical solutions to existential despair. “Want to get myself back in again,” Jenkins cries out on “How’s It Going to Be,” a post-adolescent battle cry for identity wrapped up in a song about a breakup. In a world hurtling towards cold abstraction, Third Eye Blind wanted to feel “the soft dive of oblivion.”

Third Eye Blind was a hit almost as soon as it was released in April 1997: “Semi-Charmed Life,” “Graduate,” and “How’s It Going to Be” topped the rock charts, and the album entered into the Billboard 100 by the following month. Soon enough, they would book tours opening for the Rolling Stones and U2, fitting gigs for a band built as much on the showmanship of its singer as the deftness of its lead guitarist. Jenkins, for his part, instantly took to the role of megalomaniacal frontman with his first taste of fame. “We want to be the biggest band in the world,” he told the Los Angeles Times that year. “But it has to be on my own terms.”

Unfortunately, as Cadogan would realize during the production of their follow-up, 1999’s Blue, he meant that literally: Jenkins was given all the shares of the newly incorporated Third Eye Blind Inc., making him the sole owner of Third Eye Blind’s assets. The band then effectively fired their guitarist before he could quit, abandoning Cadogan after a tour date in Utah and continuing on to play The Tonight Show with a suspiciously similar-looking replacement the next night.

In the end, entitlement won out: Critics noted, in 1997, that “Jenkins and crew have an arrogance that outweighs their talent,” and Jenkins’ alienating business practices didn’t help. Blue never reached the commercial or critical success of their rapturous debut, and without Cadogan to guide their melodies along, no subsequent Third Eye Blind record even came close. The same tenacity that made his debut so vital turned Jenkins’ band into a relic of the ’90s; he is remembered fondly alongside one-hit wonders though, quietly and truthfully, an unsung cornerstone of the power-pop canon.

Third Eye Blind has a mascot, something like a band icon—a pixelated image of a man, falling towards the ground. Jenkins has said that it’s meant to represent the Greek myth of Icarus, whose own hubris led to his downfall. It is, finally, the perfect metaphor for his band.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Third Eye Blind - Third Eye Blind Music Album Reviews Third Eye Blind - Third Eye Blind Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Sunday, January 30, 2022 Rating: 5

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