October 18, 2019 Third Eye Blind – Screamer (Album Review)
It has been four years since we last heard from Third Eye Blind, but now they are back with Screamer. Mega Collider Records delivers the album on Friday, October 18th, 2019.
The 1997 hit singles “Semi-Charmed Life” and “Jumper” propelled Third Eye Blind onto MTV and radio, leading to a commercial success that saw the band nominated for American Music Awards and taking home a Billboard Music Award. Formed in San Francisco in 1993, the then-quartet found massive success with their 1997 eponymous debut before delivering their 1999 sophomore disc, Blue. Over the next 15 years, line-up changes along with record label and legal troubles stymied the group at times, although they would release three more discs—2003’s Out of the Vein, 2009’s Ursa Major, and their reported last full-length ever, 2015’s Dopamine.
You can’t keep a good band down, so Third Eye Blind—Vocalist/Guitarist Stephan Jenkins, Guitarist Kryz Reid, Bassist Alex LeCavalier, Drummer Brad Hargreaves, and Keyboardist/Guitarist Colin CreeV—are back. Aiming to “keep it weird,” the 12-track collection is certainly a mixed bag that includes both oddities and familiar soundscapes, all reportedly inspired by social and political activism.
Screamer opens to the titular track, which features Alexis Krauss of Sleigh Bells. A relatively catchy, anthemic rocker with an activist slant, an obvious choice for a single/video, it opens the album and introduces Third Eye Blind’s lofty hopes for their sixth studio offering. Though, as a whole, that collection is a bit disjointed: pairing sincere moments full of infectious riffs and soothing melodies with desperate attempts to appeal to a much younger demographic. If the aim was to “keep it weird,” then Screamer definitely achieves this!
The record’s highs begin with “Screamer,” and then segue into “The Kids Are Coming (To Take You Down),” which weaves a zillion influences (Punk, 70’s Glam Rock, Brit Pop) into a festive, celebratory rocker full of Punk-itude. Meanwhile, “Walk Like Kings” overcomes a few awkward moments to become a bass-anchored bop that sits comfortably in the middle of the album, similar in sound to the mid-tempo “Turn Me On,” lush with electronic atmospherics.
However, there are some big misses, like “Ways” where Jenkins desperately tries to craft a catchy bop for kids more than half his age. Is it a bad song, musically? No, but the lyrics are so ludicrous as to be laughable. Similar in its failure, lyrically speaking, is the silly and repetitive “Got So High,” which is a relaxing, dream-adaisical sonic romp. However, the most awkward moment is the Trap-Hop “2X Tigers.” There are some good quotes embedded into the bizarre track, but they cannot rescue this fit of experimentation that goes off the tracks.
Which is in no way to suggest that Third Eye Blind should simply resort to soporific melodies that only appeal to Gen Xers and give up with exploring new sonic profiles. However, it’s melodic Pop Rockers such as “Tropic Scorpio” that are far closer to an authentic sound and what one would expect from the band in 2019: a delicate beat, gentle rocking sonics, and a still edgy Jenkins tossing out double entendres while he muses that he’s a “Punk Rock motherfucker.”
In fact, when they get it right, they knock it out of the park. Case in point, “Who Am I” pairs vocal melodies with twinkling guitars to set a calming pace that crafts an alluring and bespelling earworm, while “Light It Up” sees the band firing on all cylinders. Acoustics sparkle into the inspiring sentiments of “Take A Side,” urging listeners to rise up, before they wrap the entire collection up with an acoustic presentation of “Who Am I,” one of the album’s clear stand-outs.
To reiterate: Screamer is a mixed bag. Part of this is a failure to accept that talk of sexting, getting high, and dropping pointless f-bombs is what one would expect from mindless Top 40 artists, and not an established, mature band like Third Eye Blind. Is it offensive? No. Does it ruin the flow of an otherwise decent album? Yes. It is hard to condone wild experimentation when it feels more like a ploy to appeal to a much, much younger crowd than a sincere attempt to evolve their sound.
None of this is said to write off Jenkins and Third Eye Blind, however, as they certainly have proven time and time again that they can craft some truly moving Alt Rock/Pop Rock songs. For die-hard fans, Screamer has enough material to keep you sated until the next go-round, though many listeners are likely to be baffled by the somewhat schizophrenic song selection. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock give Screamer 3 of 5 stars.