Photo Credit: Third Eye Blind via Facebook
The stakes for the seventh album of San Francisco quintet Third Eye Blind are pretty low; it’s been over two decades since the band scored their last major commercial hit and unlike fellow ’90s stars Alanis Morissette, Brandy, and Liz Phair, they haven’t built up anticipation by waiting years between releases (their last album Screamer was released a little less than two years ago). At this point, the band’s pool of listeners has been reduced down only to their most hardcore, dedicated supporters; who were unlikely to abandon the band regardless of the quality of their seventh full-length effort.
One would hope that freed from the constraints of commercial pressure, the band’s latest LP would experiment with new sounds and ideas, and do something genuinely innovative and surprising. Occasionally, the album gets close to doing such: Penultimate track “To The Sea” features some James Blake-esque digital distortion that offers a welcome, if brief, change of pace. For most of the time, however, the band sound all too content to play it safe; the lyrics of “Again” portray real passion; with hurried repetitions of “you make me want to get it again,” but musically, the intensity just isn’t there to do justice to this feeling. The Califone cover “Funeral Singers”, best exemplifies this recurring problem, as the band abandons the lo-fi, DIY vibe of the original in favor of needless layers of polish.
For the most part, these songs lack the emphatics and urgency of songs like “Jumper”, or the dynamism of the band’s biggest hit “Semi-Charmed Life.” “Dust Storm” comes closest to recapturing the band’s old magic, as a delightful guitar solo pops up out of nowhere at the midway point, before dissipating and then slowly rebuilding to create a climactic finish. There’s a push-and-pull dynamic here that’s sadly missing elsewhere.
It’s in the lyrical department where this album feels closest to full-realization; if nothing else the band are masterful purveyors of late-’90s/early-2000s nostalgia; effortlessly capturing the simple charm of a not-too-far-away bygone era. Our Bande Apart falters when it tries to make sweeping societal and political statements about wealth (“A rich dude // Is just a poor dude with money”), social media (“You’re on a mission to see // Just how many likes that you can get”) and sexuality (“Sing about ass and tits again”). However, it shines in it’s most empathetic moments; when the band step off of their pedestal and admit to being victims of basic human fallibility and social pressure (“You say it’s just a pose // Well, what’s wrong with a pose? // we all invent ourselves”). There’s a certain charming fragility as well to their open-ended pondering “what do we know?”
Similarly, the album shimmers when it hones in on small snapshots of time, blocking out the rest of the world to focus on one-on-one interactions and loved-up moments. “Silverlake Neophyte” captures pre-stage anxiety and finding faith in those who believe most unconditionally in you (“Well, I get nervous before my take outside the club in Silverlake // And there’s no mistaking your perfect practiced innocence”) and offers a look into Stephan Jenkins own psyche, with an intimacy unparalleled by anything else on this album (“And this folk music’s fucking me up, makes me think I should quit”). The expert scene-setting of this understated album centerpiece is enough to make you overlook its overarching quaintness.
The best songs on this album aren’t quite great in their own right, but each contains elements of greatness: “Silverlake Neophyte” with its nostalgia-driven lyricism, “Dust Storm” with its exhilarating tension building and, “To The Sea” with its electronic experimentation. Frustratingly, these elements never come together simultaneously, but at the very least, Our Bande Apart proves that all the ingredients are there for the Third Eye Blind to make their best album yet.