Third Eye Blind never released an amazing album. They had four (Dopamine makes it five) good LP’s with at most two thirds of the songs being better than average. And let us be real here, some of those songs are storied heroes, but some of them are complete crap as well. Take their best selling release for example. Their self-titled debut has three indisputable classics: “Jumper,” “How’s It Going To Be,” and “Semi-Charmed Life.” On the flip side, it is a record that contains “Thanks a Lot,” “Burning Man,” and “Good For You.” These three may as well be a huge spike strip tearing the tires off an American-built juggernaut which would otherwise be speeding towards Mount Olympus for 90’s album deification.
Dopamine keeps that streak alive and well, and it unfortunately–even after all these years–only manages to prove that Third Eye Blind (3EB) will always be a famous 90’s band known almost solely for their singles and not a coherent album. This obviously is not a damning statement. Their fifth studio album–the band’s first in six years–has some quintessential 3EB songs that are worth holding on to.
Despite all the talk about 3EB capitalizing on millennial 90’s nostalgia, Dopamine’s keepers are not just predators of sentimental value. That would be a fair point had this record been complete trash. It is a bummer that the album begins with “Everything is Easy,” a song that definitely feels like 3EB is playing villainous puppet master with millennial heartstrings. It sounds like the band, but does not feel like the band. “IT’S A TRAP!” Admiral Ackbar screams. It very well may be, but whatever, loyal fans will ride out the storm regardless. Good thing those other two eyes are still work. What the band did right in their heyday isn’t easy to duplicate, but they manage to recycle it, often to powerful effect.
Track number two is a beautiful example, and after the opening song feels simultaneously like a sigh of relief and a punch to the stomach. “Shipboard Cook” reminds everyone that 3EB lyrics are bittersweet diamonds in the rough: they don’t seem like much when you first hear them, but they come back around and you realize how poetic they are. But only after they’ve ripped your heart out. At no time does this hold more true than during “Blade.” For those who remember “God of Wine,” or “Slow Motion,” “Blade” is their equal in calamitous and passionate imagery. A bold statement, but the lyrics speak for themselves.
Stephan Jenkins, the main singer/songwriting member of 3EB, is a brilliant poet who can provoke intense thoughts with violent, devastating lyrics. It’s always difficult for a band to remain relevant over the span of decades, but those who do almost always have a genius songwriter who first and foremost uses the power of lyrics to propel the music forward. Alas, 3EB has never been flawless, Jenkins least of all. He is constantly dogged by lawsuits from former band members who accuse him of being a greedy egotist.
Perhaps the staggering weight of dealing with all ten former band members, including those he fired from the band, finally caught up with Jenkins. On the penultimate song, “Exiles,” he writes, “Are we breaking up the band? / The naturals of dark arts / I think we like the feeling of falling apart.” Unsurprisingly, it ends up being a half-assed apology, if it can even be called that. He later sings, “Well I remember everything I said / And I don’t take it back / In the silence of this breakup all my cracks are exposed / And then the night goes black on black.”
At the end of the day, Jenkins is still the same person he always has been for 3EB’s 22 year lifespan. He is a bipolar songwriter who even in his flashes of brilliance held on stubbornly to his flaws. This album is purportedly the band’s last, so after this wave of nostalgia disappears and 3EB ends its current overpriced tour, they are done. Too bad Jenkins decided to keep some songs off this album. For those die-hards who remember the long-lost “Persephone” and “Second Born” and had hoped they would be on this album, we’ll just have to come to terms with the fact that 3EB never reached their full potential. There are a couple amazing songs on Dopamine, but that third eye will always be blind, for better and for worse.