Newest Review: ... what could be a near perfect debut album. Tracks here such as the monster hit's 'Semi Charmed life', 'How's it gonna be' and 'Jumper' Ceme... more
Don't Turn a Blind Eye To This Brilliant Debut
Third Eye Bind - Third Eye Blind
Member Name: Hishyeness
Third Eye Bind - Third Eye Blind
Advantages: An accomplished debut album with very few weak moments
Disadvantages: None to speak of.
The year 1997 AD was interesting for a lot of reasons. Lady Diana Spencer died in a car accident in Paris, while, during the same year saint-in-waiting Mother Teresa also died - peacefully, as did designer Gianni Versace - rather more violently. Dolly the Sheep was cloned, the British lease on Hong Kong expired, Bill Clinton was sworn in for a second term as the big man in the White House (in more ways than one by all accounts), while, on the home front, we were entered the "presidency" of Tony Blair.
It was also the year that I fell in love with a brilliant new band on the strength of their first catchy single, a song which I was later surprised to find out was about the experience of getting high - and coming down from - crystal meth. The band was Third Eye Blind (3EB) and the song was the incredibly energetic "Semi-Charmed Life".
ABOUT THE BAND
3EB are an alternative rock band founded in San Francisco in the early 1990's. They are currently a three-piece fronted by Stephan Jenkins (lead vocals and guitar), with Brad Hargreaves on drums and Tony Fredianelli doing backing vocals and second guitar. Founding member Kevin Cadogan, who was their lead guitarist and co-wrote many of the songs on their first two albums, "left" the band in 2000 in acrimonious circumstances (he was allegedly voted off by the other members) and was replaced by Fredianelli. In addition, original bassist Aron Salazar has not been performing with the band of late, and his future remains unclear.
Their output - four studio albums twelve years - Third Eye Blind (1997), Blue (1999), Out of the Vein (2003), and Ursa Major (2009) - can hardly be called prodigious, but what they lack in quantity, they have more than made up for in terms of quality. A fifth album (tentatively called "Ursa Minor" and consisting of songs that didn't make the cut for "Ursa Major") has been mooted for release sometime in 2010. More info on the band can be found on the official website at www.3eb.com.
The band's eponymous debut album, released on Time Warner's Elektra label in April 1997 was by far their most successful, selling over 6 million copies worldwide. It spawned no less than five hit singles, three of which - "Semi-Charmed Life", "Jumper" and "How's It Going To Be?" all charted in the US Billboard Top Ten. It is currently available in CD and digital download formats on Amazon for £6.38. The CD booklet includes the song lyrics.
> Losing a Whole Year
The opening track to the album starts off with a softly plucked guitar, before the vocals, second guitar and drums kick in to unexpectedly launch us into an energetic and powerful track that belies its humble beginnings. However, initially it feels like a fizzing ball of energy without any focus, kind of like an electric shock, but it soon settles down and you find yourself subconsciously nodding along, or tapping your foot to the infectiously pounding drum track.
The song is quite shouty, and to be frank, without the welcome aid of the lyrics printed in the CD sleeve, it would have been hard to make them out. It's a clever composition about a bored, spoiled little rich girl with more good looks and money than sense, living a sad and empty life. She shacks up with a fella, but once the initial excitement and lust wears off, they sink into a mundane and boring existence of arguments, internet chat rooms, telly and Prozac. Not the most uplifting of tracks - in fact the lyrics seem totally at odds with the energy of the track - but an impressive start nonetheless.
"When you start talking I hear the Prozac. Convinced you've found your place with the pierced queer teens in cyberspace. When you were yourself it tasted sweet - but it sours into a routine deceit."
> Semi-Charmed Life
The third track on the album was their most commercially successful single and was the song that captured my imagination and made me a fan. It is a fantastically well put together composition, with a number of changes of pace, an infectious backing track and an unrestrained joy that disguises its dark and seedy underbelly. The song grabs you right from the start with its driving baseline and skittish, often jarring guitars - it's a track that defies you to sit still - a seemingly perfect analogy for its controversial subject of getting high and coming down from a crystal meth hit (not that I would know).
The song plays out like a conversation with someone suffering from attention deficit disorder - at times agitated and desperate, at times reflective, at others mellow and introspective, before breaking out with passages of energetic and joyful exuberance that have you enthusiastically humming along with the chorus, forgetting for a moment you are sharing a moment with a drug-addled meth addict.
"I believe in the sand between my toes and the beach gives a feeling, an earthy feeling, I believe in the faith that grows, and the four right chords can make me cry, and when I'm with you I feel like I could die and that would be all right..."
Given the helter skelter nature of the first few tracks, Jumper provides a soothing interlude - rather like a dollop of cooling aloe vera on a wicked sunburn. The instrumentation is toned down, allowing the listener to hear more of the subtlety and emotional impact that Jenkins is capable of delivering with his voice. The singer is having a one-sided dialogue with someone standing (either physically or metaphorically) on a ledge, contemplating the idea of jumping off (hence the song title).
Despite that, it's not necessarily a song about suicide, but rather about someone who is about to make a crucial decision at a life-changing moment, and, if listened to in the right mood, comes across as encouraging rather than judgmental. It is a mellower and more thoughtful track than its predecessors, and given that the vocals are pushed to centre stage at the expense of the instrumentation, the lyrics seem to pack more of a punch as well.
"And I, I want you to know, everyone's got to face down the demons. Maybe today, we can put the past away. I wish you would step back from that ledge my friend..."
> How's It Going To Be?
Another welcome interlude which is introduced by a muted drum track and contemplative guitars which are entirely in keeping with the lyrics. This is a downbeat and moody song about a relationship that seems to be slowly and inexorably breaking into pieces. The singer is remembering the good times, regretting where it is all headed, and wondering how it will be when they are no longer together any more. There is a painful poignancy to the track that many people will be able to relate to - it packs a powerful emotional punch long before the change of pace in the latter part of the song as it explodes into an angst-ridden plea with Jenkins raging against the inevitable.
"Where we used to laugh, there's a shouting match, sharp as a thumbnail scratch - a silence I can't ignore - the hammocks and the doorways we spent time in swing empty..."
> Motorcycle Drive By
There are some very good songs in the six tracks between "How's it Going To Be" and this, the penultimate offering on the album. However, in terms of finding a great balance between production, pace, instrumentation and lyrics, this song borders on masterpiece. It is certainly one of the best songs that 3EB have written, and given how lyrically accomplished it is, it leaves me wondering quite why they never made the impact that their talent so richly merited.
A paen to the anguish of unrequited love, this song expertly catches the pining and suffering of loving something or someone to the point you think you will explode - all the while harbouring the painful knowledge that you will never possess it and that the passion and the desire will never be returned. The poignant but brilliantly self-aware declaration "I've never been so alone, but I've never been so alive" perfectly captures one of the great paradoxes in life - it's pain that often defines us and helps us discover who we are. This is a powerful and insightful song that is emotionally draining and invigorating at the same time.
"When I came to visit you, that's when I knew. I could never have you. I knew that before you did. Still, I'm feeling stupid and there's this burning - like there's always been. I've never been so alone. And I've never been so alive..."
In truth, I had no idea what to expect when I bought this album, especially as I already have an unwanted collection of one-hit wonders gathering dust in my CD-collection. However, I was very pleasantly surprised - but not in the manner I thought I would be. Despite being hooked in by Semi-Charmed Life, the single turned out to be something of a one-off - the song is fairly unrepresentative of the rest of the album. Along with the highlights picked out above, "Graduate", "Background" and "God of Wine" also stand-out as note-worthy compositions.
The up-side was that there were a lot of other songs on the album that were as good, but in many different ways. It's an almost flawless debut - almost too good - as in my view, and that of many others - their subsequent work suffers in comparison to this first effort. There are very few tracks that could be called weak, and to the extent that they are found wanting, it's only because the rest of the songs are so accomplished. The album covers a spectrum of emotions delivered earnestly, honestly and with a lyrical style bordering on poetry. This album is a definite grower. Some of the songs don't particularly catch you at first, but the more you listen to it, the more gems you will discover in its hidden depths.
It certainly has an enduring appeal - the decade plus since its original release has done little to temper its power and impact. It still retains a freshness and relevance, evidenced by the fact that some of the songs still continue to get significant world-wide airplay. Hopefully, their new material will revive interest in their back catalogue. Don't let this outstanding work pass you by.
FULL TRACK LISTING
1. Losing a Whole Year (3:21)
2. Narcolepsy (3:49)
3. Semi-Charmed Life (4:29)
4. Jumper (4:33)
5. Graduate (3:10)
6. How's It Going to Be (4:14)
7. Thanks a Lot (4:58)
8. Burning Man (3:00)
9. Good for You (3:52)
10. London (3:07)
11. I Want You (4:29)
12. The Background (4:57)
13. Motorcycle Drive By (4:23)
14. God of Wine (5:18)
© Hishyeness 2010
Summary: A band that deserve far more recognition that they have achieved.