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Only Half-Charmed

Third Eye Blind
Jay Blakesberg

A.K.A. Thunderwinkie: Third Eye Blind's Arion Salzar (from left), Brad Hargreaves, Stephan Jenkins and Kevin Cadogan have already started playing under assumed names--long before their fame might warrant such subterfuge.

Third Eye Blind delivers a song but not an album worth remembering

By Gina Arnold

A FEW MONTHS AGO, just prior to the release of its self-titled major-label debut on Elektra Records, San Francisco's Third Eye Blind played a series of shows at the Paradise Lounge under the assumed name "Thunderwinkie."

Now it's certainly not unknown for rock bands to play under assumed names. The Rolling Stones have appeared in clubs under many assumed names to keep riots from occurring in the streets. Just last week, to help celebrate the release of a documentary about himself being shown at the San Francisco Film Festival, Neil Young & Crazy Horse played the Trocadero Transfer under the moniker Hippie Dream.

But a young, unknown outfit like Third Eye Blind taking on an assumed name seems a bit premature. In an era when even U2 can't sell out the Oakland Coliseum, an action implying that the excitement level around your shows is that great just seems silly and arrogant.

According to press at the time, Third Eye Blind played the Paradise "secretly" for contractual reasons having to do with a weekend show at a rival club. But the incident is indicative of the sad state of rock promotion. These days, a band is hardly given time to build a buzz around itself before being hailed by an impatient record company as the greatest thing on earth.

Not surprisingly, the result tends to be the opposite reaction--indifference or annoyance from listeners who can no longer believe anything they read. Personally, I prefer to get my buzzes from places a little closer to the street. Therefore, it came as a bit of a surprise when I first heard the delightful song "Semi-Charmed Life" on the radio and found out it was by none other than Third Eye Blind.

Though the song is very much in the same vein as current music by the Posies, Weezer and Deep Blue Something, there's something special about "Semi-Charmed Life." Singer Stephan Jenkins has a great and affecting tenor, the tune is amped into overdrive by a swift and catchy tempo, and the words are almost rapped, rather than sung, for a sound that jumps right out over the bland, beatless meanderings of other alt-rock currently in high rotation.

Add a fabulously anthemic chorus--"I want something else / to get me through this semi-charmed kinda life"--and you have one of the brightest hit singles of the year.

UNFORTUNATELY, Third Eye Blind's entire record doesn't hold up to the promise of that one song. I quite liked "I Want You" and "God of Wine," but most of the other songs--particularly "Narcolepsy," "Jumper" and "London"--are way too long and earnest, and contain a sort of musical and lyrical stridency that is tiring to listen to.

Although singer/songwriter Jenkins strives hard to write poetic and meaningful lyrics, too often the result is a host of trendy, NorCal 20-something PPIB (Pierced Person in Black) references. His songs are about guys who shop on Haight Street, visit their groovy girlfriends in London and New York, and attend the Burning Man ceremony on Labor Day--in short, about a recognizable (and slightly insufferable) type of person whose experiences can hardly be called universal.

But who is Jenkins really, and what is his beef? He hasn't really cut a convincing swath for himself out of pop culture but comes off instead like a slightly more intelligent cast member of The Real World.

Meanwhile, the band's music is peppy but plain--ultra-mid-tempo, full of boring major-chord changes that you've heard a thousand times before in the music of Better Than Ezra. Now that's not necessarily a bad thing; rock's simplicity often works in its favor. But sometimes it doesn't, and that makes me wonder: What separates and elevates this kind of four-guy, four-four-time band from its peers--what makes one good and one blah?

It's surely not a musical difference, since Third Eye Blind certainly has all the talent, tunes and chops of a Replacements or Ben Folds Five. I think it must be something to do with authenticity and roots, context and personality. In the past, this kind of band was exciting because it was so unfulfilled; it had an agonized sense of entitlement that I shared wholeheartedly.

But it's hard for me to get excited about Third Eye Blind, which is neither breaking new ground nor appealing to one's sense of outraged justice when the rest of the world doesn't recognize its genius.

In the end, Third Eye Blind reminds me of this old English band called the Woodentops, with whom it actually has much in common musically. In 1986, the Woodentops' record "Well Well Well" was voted the number-one song of the year on KUSF; the band played the I Beam three times and was immediately hailed (by me and others) as one of the truly innovative pop bands of our time.

And yet, 10 years later, I can no longer remember anything about any of the band's songs, the name of its singer or why I thought it was so great. Much as I like the song "Semi-Charmed Life," I fear that Third Eye Blind is just another Woodentops--fun for the summer, but bound to fade with time.

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From the May 22-28, 1997 issue of Metro

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