#3EBTHURSDAYS | A THIRD EYE BLIND RETROSPECTIVE, PT. 2

Welcome, one and all, to #3ebThursdays*, a hostile takeover of 1%J’s now-apparently-defunct #TBT series.  Each Thursday of July, we will travel down memory lane together to look back at one album by ’90s alt-rock giants Third Eye Blind.  We will hopefully come away with what ends up being perhaps the most in-depth, critically serious look at the oeuvre of an oft-maligned band, and perhaps a thesis on the nature of community as put forth by 3eb mastermind Stephan Jenkins.  This week we turn to their celebrated sophomore attempt, “Blue.”  See pt. 1, “Third Eye Blind.”

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II. “BLUE”

Sometime between 1997 and 1999, an era of non-stop touring for Third Eye Blind on the heels of their best-selling debut, Kevin Cadogan figured it out: Almost immediately after they inked what was at the time the biggest publishing deal ever for an unsigned act, Stephan Jenkins had gotten together with the band’s manager and lawyer to make sure that “Third Eye Blind, Inc.” belonged exclusively to him. 100%.

Admittedly, it was kind of dumb for Cadogan to assume that his cokehead partner would actually split the band’s money with him in any fair manner, because this guy was evidently a major tool at the time. That said, what a fucking evil move, Stephan, bro. Like, damn.

After the tour, Cadogan reports having been told by the management that Jenkins was doing pretty much whatever he could to get him kicked out of 3eb, which, as we’ll find out, was a pretty dumb thing to do. But they still had a record to make, and Cadogan wasn’t about to let his fans down. The result, 1999’s “Blue,” is something of a mixed bad, but one filled with surprises.

After his impressive 11/14 ratio on “Third Eye Blind,” Cadogan found himself winnowed down to 6/13 on “Blue.” Whether this was by choice or by power play from Jenkins is unclear, but it goes to demonstrate the degree to which Cadogan songwriting abilities informed the quality of the debut. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say this record is only half as good, there’s a definite reduction in quality. But maybe that’s the price of adventure.

Blue opens with Jenkins’ “Anything,” which might be the bangingest track in 3eb’s catalogue. After a quiet intro, during which Jenkins murmers “Anything for you / Turn my castles blue,” the band comes chugging in with more punk verve than they’ve ever exhibited before. The riffs here are straight forward, the vocals practically shouted as Jenkins pledges literally anything to his “Jackie-O with the top down open,” just to see her. The song is over in two minutes, before Cadogan even gets a chance to solo. While it’s the only 3eb single from the first two albums without its own Wikipedia page, having not even made it onto greatest hits comp “A Collection,” “Anything” serves fairly well as a mission statement or an introductory remark, and it’s clear why Elektra and the band wanted to put it out as the first taste of “Blue.” We find Jenkins ready to give it all, and that’s a pretty interesting place for him to be in.

But it’s “Wounded where we really get into what “Blue” is all about. A ping-pong delayed guitar riff gets the song moving, as Jenkins warms us up: “The guy who put his hands on you / Has got nothing to do with me / And the bruises that you feel will heal and I hope you’ll come around / Cause we’re missing you.” This is uncharted territory for Third Eye Blind. Stephan actually comes off as sympathetic right off the bat, pulling a milder, sweeter version of #notallmen. More crucial is the “we” of the final line: Who this “we” is is unclear, but Stephan isn’t the only agent here, and maybe this means things are looking up. The song gets a slow build with the help of some lilting strings, another relatively new element for Third Eye Blind. Eventually the song rockets to the sky on the heels of a rebounding “Whoooo!” Now we’re in. “I wanna kiss you / And knock ’em down like we used to,” Jenkins sings to his “angel in the pit with her hands in the air.” If this brings up memories of “The Background,” it should, but it seems to me that “Wounded” is operating from a different plane: Where “The Background” was a tragic admission of futility, “Wounded” is a rallying cry, as Stephan tries to get this girl back on top from whatever hurt she’s suffered. The rest of the band joins in as he sings, “Back down the bully to the back of the bus / Cause it’s time for them to be scared of us.” And then, over a chorus of Stephan’s, Cadogan lets loose a soaring blur of a solo. Who the “we” is in this song isn’t quite clear, but anyone coming up against them had better be scared. (2)

Then comes “10 Days Late,” which is kind of like “Burning Man”‘s bigger, crazier brother. The weirdly shifting funky-to-hardcore verse pattern is fun and pretty thrilling. Which is interesting for a song about mennstruation: the song refers to the “something big” the girl in the song has to tell Stephan. “Funny how she always cried out ‘daddy,”‘ he observes, as he learns about getting his girl pregnant. Stephan exhibits his newfound maturity here in a pretty odd way, being genuinely excited about the prospect of having a kid with this woman, who seems like something of a child herself. Where the Stephan of “Losing A Whole Year” would have freaked and fled, this Stephan is saying, “I can’t wait to see this through!” (3)

The song is also a musical breakthrough, hinting at some of the experimentation to come on the second half of the album. About midway through, we go into a “Jumper”-esque bass segment, and then a chorus comes in singing “Time has come for you to choose / Many blessings come to you / Baby daddy keep your boo.” Yes, it’s seriously cringeworthy, but also really fascinating. (It’s worth noting that this song was also released as a single. Whoever was running Elektra at the time had some interesting ideas.) Then Cadogan gets a ripping two-bar solo before an abrupt drop back into the verse groove. Stephan ends the song really deciding to commit to this girl, to his new future with her. Then he shouts “Crawl / Up / The bedpost.” I have no idea what to make of that. “10 Days Late” is a big deal, though, simply for being so fucking weird.

“Never Let You Go” was the biggest single off of “Blue.” I think, in fact, that I probably asked for Third Eye Blind as a gift after hearing “Never Let You Go” all the time on the radio. It’s probably the most straight-forward pop song 3eb ever did, and apparently this even turned off some die-hard fans of the first record from even checking out Blue. It’s sort of fair, though: the chord progression is almost painfully dumb, the guitar lick super glammed out. Lyrically, the song certainly isn’t one of Stephan’s best. While he asserts his claim over this girl repeatedly throughout, he also seems to be thinking that they’re apparent break up doesn’t matter much. There’s also something about a “promise to your mother,” and a really painful rap outro. It fades out over the line, “That girl is like a sunburn I would like to save.” This song doesn’t really do much to advance the band, or to advance Stephan, but I guess it sold a lot of records, and it has one of the most absurdly “nineties” videos of all time, with Cadogan’s Neo look being maybe his best ever.

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The album’s fourth single, “Deep Inside Of You,” is especially important to me: My first girlfriend and I made it “our song” at age 13. Naturally, we weren’t doing any of the things, physical or emotional, described within, but it still felt right. Maybe because we had no comprehension of what “Deep Inside Of You” really meant. Or maybe because my first girlfriend was not Charlize Theron. Listening to it now, I’ve got mixed feelings. The acoustic strumming and faux wind-chimes feel horribly cheesy, like bad Jack Johnson. Stephan sings about “secret garden beams” changing his life, and I have no idea what he’s smoking. But then there’s the chorus: “And I never felt alone / Until I met you / I’m alright on my own / Then I met you.” These four lines right here make up for all of the extremely painful moments in this song (e.g. “You said ‘Boy make girl feel good’ / But still? / Deep inside / [Flip Axl switch] STIIIIIIIILLLLL???”) The chorus, though, expresses one of the essential emotions Stephan has been moving towards throughout the 3eb canon so far: a fundamental need for others. He thought he was fine as a self-contained island, but then he encountered this woman, and now he can’t imagine anywhere he’d want to be other than, well, deep inside of her.

The bridge, too. “I would change myself if I could / I would walk with my people if I could find them,” Jenkins sings over some glistening guitar work from Cadogan. “I took for granted you were with me / I breathe by your looks and you look right through me.” We’re getting more complexity in this minute of the song than we’ve gotten pretty much anywhere else so far. Stephan is growing, he’s trying to change, he’s trying, crucially, to find his “people.” The tables have turned, he’s now the girl from “Losing A Whole Year” with her “pierced queer teens.” On top of this, he’s finding his devotion challenged by indifference, another table turned.

Then a choir busts in to repeat “We were broke and didn’t know.” Before they met, they were broken, incomplete. A piercing female voice screams through, singing “Riiiight! Alright!” (This is novel, a Rolling Stones rip!) Then we drop into a subdued outro, and Stephan finds himself ruined. “Some great need in me starts to bleed / I’ve lost myself, there’s nothing left / It’s all gone / Deep inside of you.” The woman he’s so madly in love with has withdrawn, taking his soul with her. But the key here is that she’s not stealing it, this isn’t some succubus situation: He gave it willingly. This is, beautiful, but it’s also a major bummer.

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Not for long, though: it’s time for “1000 Julys! Holy shit dudes, what a fucking song. Opening with Cadogan’s first seriously metal moments on this album, this song is pure explosion from the start. Little ascending shreds pepper the massive verse riff. Stephan’s got his swagger back, too: “Planning my attack just before you come back around / Maybe I’m wrong but I don’t know how to back down.” He’s ready to pounce, watch out, ladies! He makes an elaborate comparison between himself and a vampire, and claims repeatedly to not fit in, presaging “Misfits” from “Out Of The Vein.” We quickly get back to the matter at hand, though:”Feral days and I’m sex crazed / I put it in with my animal ways.” That’s right, Stephan, you tell ’em.

The chorus kicks in, “A thousand Julys / I hope you’ll find / I’d give you the words but no words come to mind / But you turn me so cold / So I tell you lies / When you let me in it’s like a thousand Julys.” We don’t have to flex our heads very hard to figure out where he’d like to get let in. Verse two finds Stephan lamenting the loss of this flaming hottie, saying that he’s always known he’d be on his own. The second chorus has Stephan telling his girl, “When you come,” it’s as hot as. . . Oh, nevermind. (4)

But a pattern is emerging here: These songs of devotion, emotional, sexual—they all end in Stephan, alone and blue. After a blazing Cadogan solo with some AC/DC heft to it, Stephan admits that “We’ve burned it up now / I don’t even try / But I feel you gone / I’ve lost a thousand Julys.” A thousand Julys was just too damn hot. Maybe next time just try like, a couple hundred? (5)

“An Ode To Maybe” is the last relatively normal song on Blue, though “relatively” is a relative term. I honestly can’t make head nor tails of the lyrics. Laundromats, basketballs, Stephan’s hope bottled as “nutmeg and peach” perfume. Musically, though, there are some pretty rad things going on. We’ve got some sweet vocal modulation through the verses that actually make the obtuse lyrics a bit more emotionally involving. (6) The chorus is pretty much pop perfection, with the ever-more-present chorus chiming in beautifully on some “doo-doo-doos,” and wishing Stephan’s soon-to-be-ex-girl (I think? Right?) the best.

Then we have the obligatory album two experimentation, resulting in what might be this albums absolute nadir: “And I’d ride a horse / And I’d teach a course / On how I got to be a star-crossed pimp.” This is already bad enough, but then we have to drop into a funky, lo-fi breakdown featuring bass slapping and a loop of Stephan saying “pimp.” At least we pull out of this mess with a pretty decent Cadogan solo, and the band has enough sense to bring that choir back for another two or three rounds of the chorus.

By side two (7) there is no hope for normalcy. But maybe this isn’t a bad thing, as it seems like the further the band goes with their far flung bizarro shit, the more Stephan gets into what he’s really here to do. “The Red Summer Sun” opens on a pretty epic build, starting out with some abrasive squealing but moving up into a blazing, wah-filled Cadogan riff and some super snazzy work from Hargreaves. Jenkins’ vocals on this song almost feel like an afterthought, what with all the weird new shit coming up musically: a woozy Mellotron starts churning through the mix, as we get proggier than we’ve ever gotten. Stephan sings abstractions about big red skies, car wreck kids, and impermanence.

Then the whole song fucking flips into the most ridiculous thing this band had done up to this point. The tempo doubles on a dime, and we get Stephan shrieking in his best Bon Scott impression: “Been a long time, been a long time to walk with the mighty! So I won’t be a martyr, let me go! Let me go on my own!”  He sounds fucking absurd, but somehow pulls it off. The band maintains the new pace as Jenkins starts rhapsodizing about a solitary life spent sleeping on packing foam, all on his own. This seems like a bit of a philospohical backtrack, but we’ll give it to him because he’s doing it over the craziest fucking song Third Eye Blind ever thought to even try. Seriously—Did the label hear “The Red Summer Sun”? Was it somehow glossed over? Did they not notice the insane punk breakdown where Stephen chants “I’ll take on anyone,” followed immediately by a slowed down couple of bars with weirdly elongated, operatic vocals, then back into the punk shit, the back into AC/DC-land? Did they miss all of this? There are like fifteen disparate sections on “Sun,”with zero segues between them, but somehow it goes unnoticed that Third Eye Blind slipped a prog-rock song that would’ve done Jethro Tull proud into the exact center of this record. The final segment finds the band floating out on the bizarre vibes they’ve created, with Jenkins almost scatting over Hargreaves’ increasingly interesting drum work. It fades out and anyone who was paying attention takes a long moment to regather their shit.

Which is good, because now we have to deal with “Camouflage”. Seriously, what the fuck happened to these guys when we flipped the record? There are entire forums devoted to decoding the echo-laden vocals on the verses of this song, a chunk of which are actually “never to be printed” according to the booklet. Even Stephan Jenkins claims he’s not sure what he’s saying. But, of course, everyone who ever says that is lying. The first verse’s mot prominent words are “justice” and “joy,” repeated ad infinitum. We get a few random whoops over this as well, and synths swirl in the background. Stephan seems to be throwing words around about how great he’s going to feel when everyone can be themselves, thus experiencing the true justice of being allowed to stop blending in.

It gets more explicit in the chorus: “I’ll take in anyone who’s taking off their camouflage / I’ll take in anyone who’s messing up the sabotage!” Unfortunate “check it”s and “gimme the ball”s aside, this chorus is the most prime statement of intent yet from Stephan. It’s also an interesting flip from the combative “I’ll take on anyone” of “Red Summer Sun,” to saying now that he’ll “take in anyone”—so long as they’re being real, devoid of camouflage. The “sabotage” in question seems to be the conformist attack on identity, a weird inversion of the general notion of sabotage that ends up prioritizing the small-scale. It’s “the man” who’s sabotaging personal independence, not vice versa. The main point, here, is that Stephan is looking to build a community of those who are ready to get intimate, to bare themselves.

A brief string riff pops in, then we’re back to the impressionistically streaming lyrics: “Be a dream color even on a winter’s night / Thinking Georges Seurat, afternoon bathed in light / Get your joy no matter who says it’s right / Their cover’s blown, find a story of your own.” Stephan is calling out French post-impressionists and Italian metafictionalists all at once, demanding that people think outside the box, and then band together in that utopian ideal of the commune of equally free-thinking individuals who all manage to live together under one ideological roof. It may make no sense at all, but it’s a beautiful idea. Meanwhile the band (Who, I forgot to mention, produced themselves this time around) continue to keep things gloriously fucked up, with Cadogan’s chorus pedal going full strength, shimmering strings abounding, rhythmic shifts breaking things up. If “Red Summer Sun” was Third Eye Blind exploding in every direction at once, “Camouflage” is a concerted effort to implode in one direction, which somehow seems to be homeward.

After “Camouflage”, we dip into the obligatory slog that is fated to occur on hour long albums. While not without their merits, the last four songs on “Blue” don’t really do justice to the pretty much unimpeachable run of tracks 1-6.

Farther” is a Jenkins exclusive that would be an ordinary 3eb pop song if it weren’t for some fun production tricks that might be best credited to the rest of the band (Salazar is given his own production credit, which, if I had to guess, is because of the fuzz bass on this song). Jenkins’ verse vocals are muffled, as if coming through a tin can. There’s some fun backwards drum stuff, and that pulsing fuzzball of a bass riff. Lyrically, Stephan is on his A-game from word one, which is to say that he’s lying to himself and to us. “Nothing much matters to me so I can’t see why / I should hold so tightly to a memory that I can’t speak of.” The very fact that “Farther” exists exposes the lie in these first two lines. Very much matters to Stephan (we’ve just been through “Camouflage,” after all) and he knows exactly why he’s holding onto this memory: “I’m thinking how you’d open up your legs.” No matter how grown up he gets, Stephan never ceases to be a hound.

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The distortion drops as the chorus begins, with gated guitar chopping accenting Stephan’s admission that he’s “farther from you every day.” Cadogan layers feedback under the chorus, lending it a weight Jenkins’ light pop touch couldn’t begin to approach. We drop into a low-key, murmured bridge with heavily panned Cadogan licks building it back out into the rock song it almost is. The more time we spend in “Farther” land, the more it’s absolutely necessary to acknowledge that this band was about ten cuts above pretty much all of their peers musically. To elevate a song this pedestrian into something that actually approaches scintillating (and during the slog portion of the album, no less) is a serious feat.

Depending on which issue of the album you have, one of two songs could come next. I’m going to go with the American reissue, because no one wants to end with “Darwin.” That makes “Darkness” track 11. Honestly, I forget what this song sounds like every time I listen to this album. Which isn’t to say it’s not nice. For some reason I really enjoy the first few lines—”Blue come over / Born a joneser / The cops pull out the radar / And shoot devious grins.” I’m not really sure what’s going on here, which as you may have noticed is more typical of “Blue” than of “Third Eye Blind.” On the whole, it’s a more experimental, impressionistic album, and we get a lot more gibberish from Stephan here than we did before.

That said, we also get a few choice lines out of “Darkness”: “Strange friends all surround me” is my favorite. It’s not quite clear what Stephan’s stance is on these strange friends is, but it’s important that they’re there. Even if he later says, “Trust no one, that’s the one thing that I’ve learned,” these new friends are giving him new ideas with their strangeness. Possibilities are opening up.

Unfortunately, that’s the last good thing to happen on “Blue.” “Darwin” is so dumb I’d just rather not even talk about it. There are lines like “A spaceman fucked an ape / Then cut out on the date.” The chorus, “We’re lacking something good,” repeats over a low-key groove that just isn’t suited to this point of the album. Maybe it would be a better song somewhere else on the album, but the penultimate track is an honored position, and compared to “Motorcycle Drive-By,” “Darwin” is utter garbage.

On my copy of the CD, “Darwin” ends with a couple minutes of silence, and then track 13 starts, but nothing happens. In a cute irony, you have to fast-forward to get to “Slow Motion.” I guess this is the CD version of a locked groove; it’s actually pretty cool. “Slow Motion,” however, is not. On my CD, and on most you’ll find in the States, it’s an instrumental. Elektra didn’t think our soft American sensibilities could handle the lyrics the other countries got. Naturally, though, this album being released at the turn of the century, the full, lyric’ed version of the song spread around via the Interwebs and became a fan favorite at shows. While the song is an utter bore without words, the lyrics don’t do it many favors.

This song is far more narrative than anything else 3eb ever did, and it might be the one instance of Jenkins writing a song that is absolutely not about himself. The narrator of “Slow Motion” shoots people over drug debts, singing, “I guess I didn’t mean it / But man, you should’ve seen it / His flesh explode.” This is a pretty interesting direction for 3eb to even consider going in, the appreciation of the beauty in violence, the storytelling vibe, but it’s definitely not Stephan’s forte. Lines about sisters eating paint chips, coke cut with Drano, young urban psychopaths, none of this is a good look for this band. Neither is the smooth jazz piano balladeering behind it. As far as I can tell, the only reason people got into “Slow Motion” was because it felt rebellious to do so.

The real rebellion, though, is sticking a reprise of “The Red Summer Sun” on at the end of the album. It’s here that we’re reminded of what this iteration of the band is capable of, and it’s definitely this groove and it’s accompanying solo I’d rather ride out as a goodbye to Kevin Cadogan.

“Blue” was released in November of 1999. Kevin Cadogan was officially fired in January, 2000, after a show in in Utah. He sued Jenkins and settled out of court in 2002 for an undisclosed, and probably ludicrously high, sum of money. Third Eye Blind was never the same, and later material suggests that Stephan Jenkins might just have realized what exactly it was that he lost.

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Join us next week for an in-depth reading of “Out Of The Vein,” Third Eye Blind’s return to the spotlight after five years.

NOTES:

(1) Got drunk.  #3ebFriday.  [btbt31]

(2) Evidently, there’s some dispute about the importance of “Wounded.” Cadogan claims he had to fight for it’s inclusion on the album, while Jenkins claims it’s the most essential song from the first two records.

(3) Jenkins has said that the song is not about him, but about the father of his godchildren. For our purposes, though, every 3eb narrator is Stephan.

(4) I almost wonder why Elektra didn’t put this one out as a single, given how liberal they were with “Semi-Charmed Life.” It would have been pretty fucking awesome if ten-year old me had wanted 3eb CD’s based on “1000 Julys” being aired all the time instead of “Never Let You Go.”

(5) Is the choir refrain of “You save oceans, baby” an oblique climate change reference? Like, the oceans are going to doing pretty damn well with all these icecaps melting in the heat of all these Julys? I don’t fucking know.

(6) “Maybe” also includes the album’s second reference to castles, hence perhaps the working title of “Castling.” Or maybe they were just playing a lot of chess.

(7) Technically, on the vinyl release, this is side C, because obviously 3eb only put out double LPs.

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  1. […] #3ebthursdays | a Third Eye Blind Retrospective, Pt. 2 […]

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