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 well-intended third LP, “Out Of The Vein.” Pt. 1, “Third Eye Blind”; pt. 2, “Blue.”
Several things happened for Third Eye Blind and Stephan Jenkins between 2000 and 2003, when they released their third album, Out Of The Vein. After Cadogan was fired, Tony Fredianelli stepped in immediately as his replacement. (Fredianelli’s the guy in the worst of the bad coats up there, and was actually a member of some nascent version of 3eb before Cadogan even joined. They overlapped for a bit; my guess is he quit upon seeing that Cadogan was lightyears ahead of him as a guitarist.) The band built their own studio in San Francisco, which they dubbed (oh, God) “Mourning Wood.” Stephan Jenkins broke up with Charlize Theron and started dating Vanessa Carlton. He also started collecting top hats. Somewhere in there, he even did an episode of Cribs. (Choice excerpt: “This is a plaster molding of the first girl I ever had sex with. And I look at this now years later and it’s like, you know, I started out with a bang!”)
Out Of The Vein was supposed to be a lot of things. It was supposed to come out in the spring of 2002, but the absorption of Elektra into Atlantic delayed it’s release by a year. It was supposed to be called Crystal Baller, but the rest of the band, thankfully, vetoed Jenkins’ idea. It was supposed to be a double album, but Jenkins managed to cut it down from 25 to 14 tracks (though at 61 minutes, it’s still the longest album by a band that exclusively makes long albums). It was supposed to be a return to the former glories the band had with its debut.
What we ended up with is a pretty muddled affair, overlong, overdull, and overcooked. About a third of the songs on here are really, really great, but on the whole it’s just not up to snuff.
III. “OUT OF THE VEIN”
“Faster” is a pretty lackluster way to kick off the record. Nothing the guitars do is particularly exciting. The explosion into the chorus is fun, but doesn’t really do a whole lot to counter the generally boring feel of the track. Lyrically, Stephan seems to be back to feeling sorry for himself after being left by a lady love, who’s “got the nerve to say she wants to fuck that boy so badly.” Good for her. (This is, surprisingly, only the second use of “fuck” in 3eb’s discography, on their first record to bear a Parental Advisory sticker.) All of this said, the chorus does have a bit of stick to it; I find myself humming it occasionally in the days after listening to this record.
“Blinded” more than makes up for “Faster’s” inadequacies. Sort of this album’s answer to “Wounded,” “Blinded” finds Stephan sneaking into his ex’s house and watching her shower. Not quite the supportive romanticism of “Wounded,” but that’s characteristic of OOTV. Musically the song is pretty straightforward, with a really enjoyable chord progression. The second verse gets lyrically intriguing, as the ex (likely Theron) finds him sitting there, watching her: “Now her appetite is blown / Little else is known except she’s a little angry / Grabs a towel and looks away / And heat fades with the day / And I fall down on what to say / Oh, something clean, let me be clever / “Hey, oh well, whatever,” / But that’s not what I mean.” Not only is the rhythmic play of the vocal line impressive as anything Jenkins has pulled in the past, but these lines also do a great job of depicting his own internal conflict and confusion in a stream-of-consciousness spew that’s more relatable than most of Jenkins’ lyrics, especially those that involve stalking ex-girlfriends. The song dips into a pretty rad metal bridge, though Fredianelli still doesn’t seem to have the cojones for a solo. “Blinded” was the first single off the album for good reason: it’s hooky, it’s lyrically pretty, and it actually manages to be moving. That said, it peaked at 17 on the Adult Pop Songs charts, and was the only single from this album to chart at all. It also features a pretty lame Jenkins-directed video, this album’s only video. (1)
“Forget Myself” is pretty forgettable, itself, outside of the fun rhythmic play of the chorus and the most interesting guitar work from Fredianelli thus far on the record. I have no idea why this song was a single. It’s characteristic of Out Of The Vein in that it feels like the band’s primary influence here is Third Eye Blind. Just as the first two albums were a couple steps removed from their glam rock forbears, this record is a few rungs down the ladder from Third Eye Blind and Blue. It’s just not on par. At all. And to be realizing that already at track 3 is kind of sad. But then we get “Danger,” Stephan’s first foray on this album into the communalism we’ve prized so much in his earlier work.
“Danger” is, tellingly, the only song on the record cowritten by all four members of the band, and it comes bursting out of the gates right off the bat as the first out-and-0ut rocker of Out Of The Vein. Stephan sings of meeting a girl at a protest: “I met you at the barricade / It’s fever pitch where the crowd has gathered / You said the ground was breaking / You wanna get some coffee or something?” Stephan’s in his element here: “I found my people and nothing else matters,” he sings, continuing the progression from “Losing A Whole Year” to “Burning Man” to “Wounded” to “Camouflage.” Of course, he uses the communal atmosphere of a riot as a backdrop for sex: “You’ve got a taste for danger / It turns you on / I see that look in your eyes, I know what’s going on.” The song dips into a moody bridge, during which the cops show up and tear gas the crowd. “You and me killing time in the present tense / Bound together, with something to fight against!” Stephan emerges from the bridge triumphantly, with a line that cements “Danger” as the most punk song this band has ever done.
“Crystal Baller,“ the record’s second single, opens with delicate fingerpicking, as Stephan sings of alienation and feeling like a freak. Then a chugging chorus comes in, as Stephan sings “Can we try and take the high road / Though we don’t know where it ends? / I wanna be your crystal baller / I wanna show you how it ends.” Here we find him pledging his devotion, asking for a level of commitment in the face of an indeterminate future that he previously seemed unwilling to give. “Can we talk about tomorrow? / And the promise that it brings?” This is the first time we’ve seen Stephan even mildly concerned with the future, and it’s a good look on him. Nothing the song does musically is super thrilling, but it’s definitely an excellent pop song in the 3eb tradition of excellent pop songs, and it very much merits it’s single status. Fredianelli finally gets a solo in at the end but it just makes me miss Cadogan. (2)
“My Hit And Run” is a literal retelling of a time Jenkins got hit-and-runned on his beloved motorcycle that also doubles as an excuse to reminisce about yet another lost love. Aside from an almost-Cadogan worthy riff or two from Fredianelli, the song doesn’t really merit discussion.
“Misfits” definitely does. Opening with a moody, minor-key run, “Misfits” is definitely one of the better songs Jenkins has ever written on his own, up there with “Motorcycle Drive-By” and “Deep Inside Of You.” That said, it leads with one of his dumbest lyrics ever: “Hey bro, props at the aftershow / Can you tell me where the greenbuds grow?” Along with the stupidity of making weed sound like a mystical plant of medieval lore, “hey bro” is probably the douchiest way you can open a song.
But it goes way up from there: “I lost myself outside again / With the sound running through my head / Drowned out way out in the crowd.” Stephan is describing the necessary move from interiority and solipsism out to “losing oneself” in a crowd, drowning in it as a way of joining it. The chorus kicks in with “My people are the misfits / The ones that don’t fit in” (Thanks for the definition, Steve), echoing a sentiment from “1000 Julys:” “We don’t fit in.” The song then ratchets up as Jenkins sings, “Those are the ones for me / The misfits, the freaks, the enemy, you and me.” My favorite aspect of this chorus is the inclusion of “the enemy.” Whether Stephan sees this as his own enemy or the enemy of society at large within which these people don’t fit, the use of the word itself is a powerful admission of communion: It’s not true community until you join up with the enemy (cf: The Monitor). Later, Stephan sings “I bleed for the moments when we’re here and we’re all around.” This calls back to the various things he’s bled for (“some great need”) and breathed for (“your words”) over the course of the first two albums, and it seems like by far the best one yet.
Of course, after a song this good, we need like three or four that pretty much suck. “Can’t Get Away” is feather-light and boring; it could be a Vanessa Carlton song. (3) “Wake For Young Souls” is an egregiously bad reggae tune that Jenkins should’ve sold to 311 or Michael Franti. The faux-patois rap in the middle might be the very worst thing Jenkins has done to date. “Palm Reader” opens with some fun Cadogan-esque harmonic chiming, but doesn’t do much worthwhile beyond that. It’s a “stay-with-me” plea directed at Theron during which Stephan drops a pretty awful Freud reference (“Freud said that love was a good psychosis / But I don’t know, I’ve had too many doses / He’s a creep and we all know that he probably made it up”). Even so, it’s probably the best song from this chunk of the album, if only because the heavy chunks that follow the choruses remind me of past glories. “Self Righteous” would be the album’s worst song “Wake For Young Souls” didn’t exist. This is mainly because it’s a duet with, of all people, Kimya fucking Dawson. It’s trying to be a ballad in the vein of “The Background,” but it ends up being a six-minute slog with no real substance but self-pity.
“Company” gets us back on track for a second, though. Opening with a menacing “Start your engines,” “Company” delves into some of the seediness that helped make Third Eye Blind so appealing, feeling more like that album than just about anything else here. “Can we get the chemicals in? / Cause anything’s better than this / Mix it up with Vicodin / Cause anything’s better than this” Stephan sings. We’re back in drug land for the first time on this record, and it’s pretty bad: “No real friendships exist / That would be an understatement.” The chorus has Stephan telling people to stay away from he because of the bad company he keeps; “You don’t know where we’ve been: Lining ’em up again.” The call and response sections of the song tell a different story, though, as Stephan seems to plead for a reliable relationship. The second of these bits is one of the most moving parts of Out Of The Vein, and maybe of the 3eb discography, as Stephan sings “The city is dying / (At least to me) / The city is dead now / (My kingdom for a friend).” He’s desperate to get out of his coke-and-Suicide Girls hell, but by the end of the song he seems pretty stuck. At least Fredianelli lets rip his one really amazing, glammed out solo of the record. Maybe everything will be okay. (4)
The album’s proper closer, “Good Man,” is pretty damn boring. It seems to be yet another longing-for-Charlize track, which as it turns out kind of overwhelm this album. The outro has some reasonably nice jamming on it, but it really can’t hold a candle to anything from the Cadogan era. Then we have hidden track “Another Life” which actually approaches the experimentation of Blue, with some weird production tricks, but ultimately doesn’t even graze that album’s heights. This mainly comes down to hooks: “Another Life” has none. Stephan sings of seven-headed whores and graveyards, and I just can’t be bothered this far into the album to figure out what he means.
While Out Of The Vein certainly has its moments, the drop in the quality of the songwriting here is brutal. Cadogan was instrumental to the successes of the first to records, and despite Jenkins’ very firm beliefs that he can make it all work on his own, he really can’t. There are clear reasons this album sold so poorly, and most of them have to do with Kevin Cadogan. All that being said, Jenkins’ longing for community, for friendship has never been more apparent than it is on this album’s highlights, which are certainly worth the price of admission.
Come back next week for a trip through Third Eye Blind’s fourth album, Ursa Major, their first to be self-released, and possibly even their return to form.
(1) Verse three has Stephan dipping back into Greek mythology with an obtuse Icarus reference that seems to imply he really didn’t understand the story at all— “Icarus is not a t-shirt or a swan song, no / He is born again.” What are you even talking about?\
(2) Personal side note, I have a very distinct memory of asking the DJ at my middle school friend’s bar mitzvah party to play this song like fifteen times. My goal was to impress my soon-to-be first girlfriend [of “Deep Inside Of You” fame]. He finally played it, and we all laughed at the censoring of the line “In my mind that record still plays / Still wonder what the fuck it says.” I can’t remember if it was “frick” or “flip” that they used, but it was hilarious.
(3) Jenkins actually ended up producing Carlton’s second album, Harmonium, in 2004. He cowrote four of it’s songs, most notably her second biggest hit “White Houses,” which is obvious in retrospect: I don’t think Carlton would have written a song about losing her virginity without help from a guy like Stephan.
(4) Another musical note about “Company:” Almost the whole thing is sung in harmony. This is pretty damn significant.