Classic Music Review: Third Eye Blind

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For anthropologists only.

This is going to be a rather personal review, but I do have a reputation for excessive personal disclosure. In various posts, most of which are now invisible, I’ve shared intimate details of my sexual history, displayed pictures of my ass, tits and pussy, and even posted a few pics of what I look like when someone is whacking my ass with a riding crop.

Spirit’s “Nothing to Hide” is one of my many theme songs.

I have been emotionally and physically transparent as long as I can remember, but I am also a paradox. Back in high school, I was known as The Unattainable One. This wasn’t all about my looks; it had more to do with the energy field I generate. That barrier essentially communicates to people, “Stay the fuck away from me unless you’re invited inside.”  Those who see me smiling (and I’m usually smiling about something) might take a few steps in my direction before running into an invisible barrier that warns them off. I nearly always make the first move, either in friendship or when initiating sexual encounters. People who thought I was an arrogant egomaniac full of nothing except self-adoration are often shocked to learn how friendly, curious, generous and flat out nice I am once I approached them and let them inside.

So fuck all of you who failed to like my Facebook page during its brief and tragic existence.

Anyway, the problem with the shield is that I don’t seem to be in complete control of it. It’s nearly infallible whenever a loser guy tries to hit me up, a bit less reliable with people at work I can’t stand, and out-and-out flaky when trying to resist the repeated intrusions of mass culture. Although I am always skeptical of anything that Everybody loves, sometimes I do get caught up in the excitement of a cultural moment, like Obama’s first election (even though I knew deep down he’d be a fuck-up) and the release of Third Eye Blind’s first album.

There was no way you could have lived in San Francisco during that time and avoided getting caught up in the hoo-hah over Third Eye Blind. It was not only a case of “local boys make good,” (we had quite a few of those, and several successful girls as well), but that the songs and the sounds seemed to capture the mood, language, attitude mindset of Generation Y, the Internet generation, the dot.com generation, millennials, or whatever you want to call us. San Francisco was the epicenter of that cultural earthquake, and there was a definite shift in the energy in The City at the time as thousands of twenty-somethings invaded the place to take jobs in SoMa where the dot.com companies were developing hundreds of really stupid business strategies that didn’t need to make sense because if you had dot.com at the end of your business name you were a future millionaire. They stayed in SoMa after work, drinking infused vodka and hanging out at clubs that seemed to pop up all over the once dilapidated neighborhood. Everyone was getting rich, new, ear-shattering restaurants were opening everywhere and nearly everybody caught the fever.

Fitting the times, Third Eye Blind’s music had greater energy and more melody than grunge music, which was in decline anyway after its hero blew his head off. The music mavens called Third Eye Blind “post-grunge,” creating another silly genre in a universe of silly genres. All I knew was that at the age of almost-sixteen I thought (or I thought I thought) it was a terribly exciting record that kicked ass and that I rated up there with Oasis’ first two albums, my absolute favorites of the 1990’s. When I went to college a few years later, Third Eye Blind was one of the first CD’s to go into my CD travel case.

The funny thing is, though, I never played it the entire time I was at college. I thought it was because their follow-up album sucked and I was disgusted with how instant stardom went to their heads, with the lead singer bonking Charlize Theron and the lead guitarist filing a lawsuit against him for being an asshole. Later I came to realize that I’d associated their sound with an era that had destroyed the place where I grew up. San Francisco sacrificed its character as the bohemian center of the universe and became the destination for the nouveau riche who have ruined The City with their Health Nazi dogma, obsession with possessions and the accumulation of the emptiness we call wealth. Recently they banned public nudity, a revolting development in a city that used to symbolize sexual and personal freedom.

What caused me to review this album was both the desire to face my demons and the fact that when I first started this blog in 2011, I put together several Favorites Lists to give people an idea of my musical tastes, and I automatically put Third Eye Blind on my Top 10 Debut Albums list. I didn’t bother to listen to it again because I didn’t see the need. I mean, Everybody knows that it’s one of the greatest début albums ever, right? I decided that it was finally time to challenge the hypothesis that I still held as the gospel truth.

Isn’t that funny? Despite all the signs, I still wanted to believe in this album! I wanted to hear the validation of my teenage instincts and the meanings that I attached to that wonderfully complicated period in my life’s journey.

Well, things didn’t quite work out the way I’d hoped.

Third Eye Blind opens with “Losing a Whole Year,” a song where the narrator talks about the empty feeling of having fucked a rich girl for a whole year (poor boy!) and learning at the end that it was all just superficial sinning and that the girl was incapable of love. He laments that “Now we’re stuck with the tube/A sink full of dishes and some Aqua Lube.”

Which identifies him as an amateur. Aqua Lube is not the lubricant of choice for anal sex. It evaporates! Unless you intend to come in 11 seconds, you’re not putting your water-lubed dick up my ass, mister!

In other words, Losing a Whole Year is a very bitter song full of the lingering resentment of a child who can’t accept his own responsibility for a relationship failure. At the time I loved this song; now it sounds like the angry wailing of someone who didn’t get what he wanted even though the was getting what he wanted at the time.

Men!

“Narcolepsy” comes next, one of the songs on the album I have always detested. The people in my generation are absolutely obsessed with their various neuroses and love to share stories about their conditions ad infinitum. My first real professional job in The City involved sharing a small office divided into four cubicles where I worked with three women my age. Woman A was on two meds, Woman B three and Woman D an amazing four. They talked about how fucked up they were nonstop, just like the guy in this song repeating the words, “How’d you like to be alone and drowning?” four lines in a row. I can empathize with the best of them, but blatant advertising of one’s self-pity always leaves me cold. I feel great pain for victims . . . until they start to loudly proclaim their victimization. Leadman Stephan Jenkins had a pretty fucked-up childhood, and I feel bad for him, but too often it sounds like he’s either using his unpleasant past as a way to increase his artistic cred or is wallowing in his personal misery for economic gain.

God, I’m a bitch.

Next comes the mega-hit, “Semi-Charmed Life,” which I have to admit still kicks ass. The pseudo smart-ass, hip-hop influenced vocal and the cocky coolness is so 90’s SoMa that I have to smile at the memory of the attitude. Of course, the attitude was pure pretense, but it was seriously cool at the time, like ugly retro eyeglasses. The band hits all the breaks, the harmonies add to the excitement and the tune is so damned catchy. The lyrics are thoroughly neurotic and jumpy for the most part, but also feature some vivid imagery and glimpses of human love:

I believe in the sand beneath my toes
The beach gives a feeling, an earthy feeling
I believe in the faith that grows
And the four right chords can make me cry
When I’m with you I feel like I could die
And that would be all right, all right

So, we’re batting .333 with eleven songs to go. “Jumper” comes next, one of the few songs about suicide that I find sincere and touching. The 90’s were full of obligatory suicide songs, as my generational cohorts loved the drama of threatening to off themselves. This story, though, is based on a true story of a young gay teen who did off himself by jumping off a bridge. Here Stephan Jenkins turns his lifetime of pain into genuine empathy for a victim of relentless hazing and harassment; you can hear it in his voice and read it in the words:

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
You could cut ties with all the lies
That you’ve been living in and if you do not want to see me again
I would understand, I would understand, I would understand

Unfortunately, it’s followed by “Graduate,” which leans too far to the grunge side of things with echoes of 70’s big guitar bands. “How’s It Going to Be” comes next, a song that’s very popular with Third Eye Blind fans because of its angst-filled acoustic flavor but which I’ve always found a bore that fails to live up in comparison to its contemporary, Oasis’ “Wonderwall.” Next up comes “Thanks a Lot,” which starts out in a promising manner with different guitar tones but soon turns into another grungy drag. It’s at this point I noticed that there are no decent lead guitar solos on this album and that the guitar work is pretty pedestrian in general, dominated by power chords and elementary riffs.

“Burning Man” sort of combines features of the two previous turkey tracks, which isn’t an equation that adds up to anything interesting. “Good for You” is pounding darkly-tinged power chords fading to a quieter vocal passage that doesn’t do much for me, and neither does the rest of the song. “London” sounds like it could have come from a Led Zeppelin outtake album. Yawn.

I’m getting restless, people!

“I Want You” became a decent hit for Alana Davis, and I have to say I definitely prefer her uptempo jazz version to this unnecessarily dark take where Stephan Jenkins’s vocal style becomes an irritant. It’s followed by “The Background,” a slower number without much to recommend it and terrible vocal effects. “Motorcycle Drive By” is another acoustic number about a disappointing trip to see a girl. At this point I wish that Stephan Jenkins would look into the fucking mirror and identify himself as the common denominator in all these failed relationships . . . or take his own advice in this song: “I’ve never been so alone/And I’ve never been so alive.” Good! There’s nothing wrong with being an anti-social introvert as long as you don’t hurt anyone! Go for it!

Of course the album has to end with what passes for a reflective, drenched-with-superficial-meaning opus, and this one’s called “God of Wine,” an ode to the anti-social loneliness that has now officially pervaded Third Eye Blind.

I walk home alone with you
In the mood you’re born into
Sometimes you let me in
And I take it on the chin
I can’t get clean again
I wanna know, can we get clean again?

There’s gibberish about gods and zodiacs in a vain attempt to lift this song above the mundane, but the real meaning of the song comes from the chorus, “I can’t keep it all together.” More poor-me-and-my-mental-illness “searching for something I can never give you.”

Charlize Theron fucked this guy? I wouldn’t let him within five feet of my pussy.

In the end, Third Eye Blind is an anthropologically interesting album because of its stature in the era. While it brings back some pleasantly naughty memories of my debauched youth, today it wouldn’t make my list of Best 50 Debut Albums. Off the top of my head and without looking, I can name at least ten better ones in rapid succession: Are You Experienced, Fresh Cream, Definitely Maybe, In the Court of the Crimson King, Airs and Graces, Ramones, Pretenders, The Doors, Elvis Presley, Mass Romantic, My Generation . . . okay, I’ll stop there. While Third Eye Blind has a few great songs and a definite energy, it’s really an album of promise and potential never quite realized in consistent quality output.

It’s tough to let go of generational attachments. We all want our youth to have meant something, and the music of our youth is always embellished with well-intended but often inflated significance. Unfortunately, I grew up in an era of pretty shitty music and remain firm in my wish that I had been born into my parents’ generation. The Baby Boomers can definitely get over-the-top with their insistence that they grew up in a special time, but at least they have the music to back up the claim.

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