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Eye Blind: Out of the Vein
Posted: May 29,
Kevin Forest Moreau
Third Eye Blind's Stephan Jenkins has a rare knack for crafting
memorable songs around atypical pop-rock topics. "Ten Days Late," from the
band's 1999 sophomore effort Blue, suggested a woman missing her
period, and of course the group's signature hit "Semi-Charmed Life" (from
its 1997 eponymous debut) was a sunny summer anthem about a drug addict
(and certainly one of the few songs in recorded history to have
secretaries and 'tweens alike cheerfully singing "She goes down on me").
That subversive streak is one of Jenkins' strongest talents, and it seems
almost inextricably bound to his similar (if much more uneven) gift for
melody: his best tunes, like Third Eye Blind's "Jumper," seem to
mine bright, tuneful colors from darker material.
That dark-light dichotomy rears its head occasionally on the group's
third effort, Out of the Vein. But like the band's trademark guitar
hooks, it's largely absent. Like Jenkins' wordy, little-engine-that-could
delivery, Vein tries a bit too hard; unlike Jenkins, who somehow
makes you root for his straining vocals, the record doesn't succeed -- at
least, not fully. Not quite. "Faster" is a jolting opener, all "Aaah-aah"
urgency, with Jenkins wrapping the line "I wanna get off one time/ and not
apologize" in a fist-pumping frenzy. First single "Blinded" is a similarly
effective slice of singalong guitar rock in the best tradition of
"Semi-Charmed Life" or Blue's "Never Let You Go." (As a lyric, "Macrame
queens in the afternoon" highlights Jenkins' way-overlooked ability to
insert vaguely evocative lines with surgical precision, hinting at a short
story we're not quite in on.) And "Crystal Baller" (originally the album's
title) is a rocking highlight, a plaintive-yet-strident epistle to a lost
love powered by a staccato guitar riff and Jenkins' impassioned vocal:
it's destined to take its place alongside ubiquitous radio hits like
"How's It Going To Be?"
But whether it's due to the loss of guitarist Kevin Cadogan or too much
lag time between albums, too much of the rest of Out of the Vein
struggles to scratch its way into your memory banks, hobbled by its own
melodic shortcomings. Songs like "Danger" and "My Hit and Run" (which
rather deftly turns a motorcycle accident into a sad expression of "seize
the day" longing) never quite reach escape velocity, although the
"bop-bop-bop" refrain of "Can't Get Away" comes close. "Misfits" shows
hummable potential, but proves too slow. (And for heartthrob Jenkins, who
famously dated Charlize Theron, to attempt to assert solidarity with the
"freaks" who "don't fit in" is the height of disingenuousness.) Everything
else, from the awkward "Forget Myself" to the lethargic "Good Man,"
disappears before it's even finished. Third Eye Blind, perhaps the best of
the Semisonic-Better Than Ezra strain of guitar-pop bands (and far and
away a superior band to the turgid
matchbox twenty), is capable of much, much better material than this
wobbly, half-and-half affair. Still, the half that's good is quite
grabbing, and hints at better things to come.
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