Third Eye Blind are a San Francisco-based alternative rock band, formed in 1993. Frontman, Stephan Jenkins, and then lead guitarist, Kevin Cadogan, signed the band’s first major label recording contract with Elektra Records in 1996, apparently, certainly at the time, the largest publishing deal ever for an unsigned act.
They’ve sold over 12 million copies across five albums. These are Third Eye Blind (1997), Blue (1999), Out Of The Vein (2003), Ursa Major (2009) and Dopamine (2015). Back in 2012, Jenkins stated that following that last album, they would cease LPs in favour of EPs. Their latest EP, We Are Drugs, came out on Friday, October 7, and is said to perhaps comprise of songs from those Dopamine sessions, others from scratch.
Furthermore, with the recording process for their last three albums being four to six years, this latest EP, in stark contrast, was recorded over the space of a week in a studio in Texas. Its first single, “Cop Vs. Phone Girl”, was released on July 25. This was very much centred around the Black Lives Matter movement, after the Spring Valley High School incident in 2015, when a police officer violently removed a black girl from her seat during class.
Things start with “Company Of Strangers” (streamed September 8), opening with briefly lonesome industrial percussion, before the moody guitar kicks in. The vocals are charged with tension, maybe a tad despondent. It develops, now the whole band kicking in, into a driving rocker. Lead guitar melody is both passionate and rollicking. This song has real energy, high octane with real immediacy. Its closing moments are crushing, before a brooding fadeout.
“Queen Of Daydreams” has that industrial percussion opening it, as like the last. The guitar is more sedate, really creating ambience. The bass really breaks out in this one, with room to breathe and, in turn, accentuate the general melancholy of the track. A middle section sees the reprisal of that industrial percussion, as the guitars motion the chopping of trees before soaring for joy. The moody clap of the drum locks this all in. Excellent dynamics, before an industrial fadeout.
Please “Don’t Give In” they plead. This is sad, with the ringing of piano chords lending a certain finality and graveness to proceedings. This is despite the song title, which maybe implies to drive on, despite the obstacles in life? Certainly the rising guitar maybe indicates this to be the case. Then you’re left under no doubt of this, as the pace picks up frenetically. Fighting for your life, swimming against the tide, sort of thing. An acoustic fadeout, the depths of sadness, maybe implies defeat despite a gallant stride towards victory.
“Isn’t It Pretty” is a laidback one, the bass locking a slow groove as the sometimes spoken words detail the curiosities of life. By the midpoint, processed guitar takes the song on a tad funky tangent. The pace seems to pick up, becoming moody, cool and head nodding. The bass evokes most of the feeling in the track, underpinning the whole thing.
The frank “Sherri Is A Stoner” opens very electronic, subsequently set against live drum. A good contrast before the guitar, building to crescendo, turns it into a lively number. Things slow down, before building up into a quite anthemic chorus. The drums go absolutely bananas to accentuate the drama of the hook, come the middle point. The vocals are almost falsetto, giving it a pop quality, infectious and addictive.
“Weightless” starts sung in a similar range, with, again, the dynamics going from driving to stripped back. Seemingly masters of the tempo change. Certainly makes for intriguing, exciting listening. The middle section is definitely indicative of this, moody yet calm, driving into massive crescendo. The drums thump as the guitars develop into a wall of sound. The driving guitars are fast and crushing, before a fadeout of feedback.
Their single, “Cop Vs. Phone Girl”, is more pop than rock orientated. The licks of the guitar are quite funky. The drums largely drive this one, punctuating the silences in quite a sparse track. The vocals, however, are quite impassioned. “All the kids are alright” closes the track, maybe perhaps indicating that maybe police profiling targets certain people who are really as much the same as anybody else.
There are positives to take more or less from every track on this project. Even just to appreciate the continuity from “Company Of Strangers” to “Queen Of Daydreams”, with the recurrence of that industrial percussion sound, would be a start.
“Don’t Give In”, meanwhile, personifies, in its instrumentation, the crushing lows and soaring highs, the battle implied in its song title. It begins grave, no hope, before electric guitar seems to suggest otherwise. Rousing, yes, until that acoustic guitar closes, suggesting failure. The gallant nature of the failure affords some satisfaction for the unhappy ending. “Isn’t It Pretty”, furthermore, offers the first true departure in sound, more laidback and bass orientated, really helping the latter breathe.
There’s further continuity to appreciate from “Sherri Is A Stoner” to “Weightless”, with the recurrence of that almost falsetto vocal delivery. This is, feasibly, the next departure in sound, less alternative rock in execution. With the former, also, there’s the satisfying switch from electronic to live instrumentation. The latter, moreover, delivers expert tempo changes that are actually typical of the band, at least in this release.
The final departure comes with the final song, “Cop Vs. Phone Girl”. This departure in sound, with those funky guitar licks, is more pop influenced and therefore, again, less alternative rock in its execution. In fact it’s such a sparse, daresay masterful, arrangement you might forget they’re usually a full on rock band.
Third Eye Blind were bold enough not to define what the music should be or sound like, writing this EP. As such, in allowing for complete freedom in what happened there and then, this is a varied effort that’s far from formulaic, exploring more than the one standard sound or style.
It’s sizeable in quantity, too, probably indicative of their preference to go from the album format, to a more EP centred one. This is maybe why the tracks lead so well into eachother. Third Eye Blind’s We Are Drugs EP can be heard on iTunes here.
Words by Andrew Watson