Summer is a time for the beach, blockbuster movies and cool, refreshing drinks enjoyed on a shaded patio somewhere. It’s also a time for nostalgia, particularly for bands of a certain era. That era, at least for now, is unequivocally the '90s.
Just look around. Collective Soul, Our Lady Peace and Tonic just played in Houston. Everclear, Vertical Horizon and Fastball did the same. Bush is about to. Now, Third Eye Blind is playing Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion on July 14 in support of the 20th anniversary of its self-titled debut.
Third Eye Blind is an interesting case as it pertains to '90s nostalgia. Some have long since written the band off as a one-hit wonder, a piece of late-'90s pop-rock that they’ve long since forgotten. Others swear by the band’s newer material. Some simply can’t stand frontman Stephan Jenkins, labeling him an egomaniac who has essentially run off his fellow 3EB founders in claiming the band as his own. And some simply couldn’t give less of a damn about the band at all.
Each of these groups makes a point. While not exactly a one-hit wonder, Third Eye Blind’s catalog isn’t chock-full of hits. “Semi-Charmed Life” was an obvious smash, as was “Jumper.” “How’s It Going to Be” and “Never Let You Go” also held it down on the pop and rock radio charts, but aside from that, 3EB didn’t exactly produce a greatest hits record during its heyday.
And, yeah, the band is a bit underserved in terms of its newer material. Hell, it could be argued that 2009’s Ursa Major is the band’s crowning achievement. Not only did it debut at No. 3 on the Billboard Top 200 – a personal best – it also showcased the band at its most mature. Jenkins’s songwriting and hooks are in peak form, as evidenced by tracks like “Bonfire” and “Sharp Knife,” the latter of which may very well be the best 3EB track that was never released to radio.
On the flipside, Jenkins doesn’t exactly have the best rep in the business. Dude goes through bandmates like Taylor Swift goes through boyfriends, and anyone who’s ever experienced a Third Eye Blind live show can attest that Jenkins’s opinion of himself isn’t exactly tempered.
So, yeah, there’s a lot to unpack when it comes to Third Eye Blind. But, in reality, any talk of the band begins and ends with its 1997 self-titled debut, mostly because that album is far from a showcase for a couple of hit tracks that sold a lot of records and built Jenkins and his bandmates really nice homes. Third Eye Blind the album is way more than that; in fact, it’s one of the best pop-rock records ever made.
To properly measure a pop album of yesteryear, one must view said album almost like a professional sports team. Star power is key, but depth is not to be discounted. Take the Astros, for instance. Yes, guys like Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve and George Springer are all playing at MVP levels, and those three will certainly help decide whether the Astros make a run at the World Series. However, role players like Jake Marisnick, Josh Reddick, Marwin Gonzalez and Brian McCann will also dictate the Astros’ postseason chances. Simply put, the Astros are a great team not because they feature one of the best trios in the majors; they are a great team because they feature one of the best trios in the game, coupled with one of the deepest rosters in the league.
And this is where Third Eye Blind’s debut succeeds. Sure, “Semi-Charmed Life” and “Jumper” are pop-rock masterpieces that still receive radio play to this day. And they are the primary reason Third Eye Blind spent more than 100 weeks on the Billboard charts, having since sold more than six million copies. But the reason the album resonates to this day, so much so that 3EB can devote a full tour to its 20th anniversary, is the other tracks that round out its roster.
Let’s start with “Losing a Whole Year,” for two reasons. One, it conveniently kicks off the album. And, more important, it’s the best song Third Eye Blind ever produced. The opening guitar riffs, that soothing chorus, Jenkins’s primal rage harnessed into pop perfection. It’s all there.
The album doesn’t let up from there. “Narcolepsy” is a fine song that segues into the absolute murderer’s row of “Semi-Charmed Life” to “Jumper” to “Graduate” to “How’s It Going to Be.” This album was designed to hit hard, fast and early on, and it succeeds in that regard.
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The second half of the album doesn’t quite resonate like the first, if only because the standard set forth by the album’s first half is damn near impossible to replicate. The back half of Third Eye Blind does, however, feature one of the best tracks the band ever produced – “Motorcycle Drive By.” Some breakup tracks are hokey, while others tug at real emotions. “Motorcycle Drive By” certainly does the latter.
Third Eye Blind was almost a victim of overnight success. Very few bands are lucky enough to have their first proper album sell millions of records on the back of some of the defining music of a decade. So following up that type of success isn’t exactly an easy feat. The band’s sophomore effort, Blue, sold well enough and included a couple of semi-hits. The band sorta faded into commercial irrelevancy from there, and has yet to release another Gold record.
But that doesn’t matter now. Third Eye Blind is back on tour not in celebration of its present state of affairs and certainly not in celebration of its future. Rather, Stephan Jenkins and whoever he brings along with him to The Woodlands will be – like many of the band’s contemporaries – celebrating their past. As it pertains to Third Eye Blind, the band’s past is something that lives on to this day.