Artist: Third Eye Blind
Title: Third Eye Blind
Genre: post-grunge power pop
The late 90s were a weird time for rock and roll. The second wave of grunge was on the ebb, the pop renaissance was just around the corner--the Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys had their first commercial hits in 1996, although bubblegum wouldn't completely dominate until Britney Spears' debut in 1999. All around there was less appetite for self-serious angsty music, and the rock acts that broke during this era embraced their fun side. Two bands in particular stand out to me, Third Eye Blind and Incubus. Both broke around the same time and constructed their sound from a lot of the same component parts, even though the end result was quite different. The both wrote up-tempo pop songs that were infused with punk and hip-hop influences. They both wrote lyrics that specifically de-glamorized the culture of partying and drug abuse that surrounded rock and roll. Of the two, Incubus was the more sophisticated, pursuing an experimental and complex sound. Third Eye Blind wrote popcorn, but it was some tasty popcorn. Third Eye Blind wasn't a huge-selling album, but it produced some very successful singles: Semi-Charmed Life, Graduate, How's It Going To Be, and Jumper, which all got heavy radio play.
I remember being completely, er... charmed... by the lead single Semi-Charmed Life. It was fast and bouncy and very high-energy, while somehow seeming to be about junkies who weren't enjoying getting high anymore, or something like that. It was also very easy to play on the guitar, so double-bonus. I loved that they sang about sex and drugs with candor and earnest, if not nuance, but even then I didn't really get it. I owned the cassingle with the radio edit, and mostly bought the whole album because I loved that song but hated the way the radio edit garbled with phrase "crystal meth." The rest of the album followed suit: catchy, high-energy songs about subjects that sounded cool even though I didn't really understand the narrative. I mean, I understand them better now. Now that I've been through a rough break-up or two, I have a better handle on the opener Losing A Whole Year and its opening line "I remember you and me used to spend the whole goddamn day in bed." Back then I assumed they were just tired all the time--the next track was called Narcolepsy, so I guess that made sense. Or maybe it was a drug thing?
Oh, 1997 Kurt, you sweet summer child.
I listened to this album constantly. It was just under an hour long, the perfect length to put on a 60-minute blank tape and listen to in the car on repeat. Again, this is not high art, it's pop art, but it's really compelling pop art. Some of the non-radio tracks are still in my sing-a-long playlists. (How, for example, was Graduate a single but not the far superior London?) And there are little lyrical flourishes that I still enjoy. Like "The clothes she wears mis-fit" from Thanks A Lot or "I've never been so alone and I've never been so alive" from Motorcycle Drive By. The couple of down-tempo numbers like The Background and God Of Wine have drive and purpose. The only songs that haven't aged well are Good For You, which feels like such a throwback to second wave four-chord grunge, and I Want You, which is aggressively sappy, but neither of those are bad, by any stretch.
Further Listening: The follow-up Blue was pretty underwhelming, and I haven't heard any of their other albums (although apparently they have a lot of them). Alas. Sometimes, you only have one hit record in you.