Third Eye Blind's career trajectory is a familiar one: Rock band hits mainstream radio in the late '90s, sells a few million records, loses steam with second album, becomes a casualty of a dying industry and fades from the general consciousness. Those who survive to tell of this tale are often destined to a life of county-fair performances (see: Collective Soul), but Third Eye Blind has been granted access to a path less traveled.
The band has generated an unlikely cult following by resonating with a new breed of emo-leaning alternative rock bands such as All Time Low and Boys Like Girls, who not only claim the group as an influence but are touring alongside it on the Bamboozle Roadshow. (All Time Low is not on the St. Louis date of the tour.)
The inclusion of Third Eye Blind (which is also known as 3eb) in the canon of groups influential to the emo movement is largely the result of its multiplatinum, self-titled 1997 album and the early-twenties demographic of the bands it inspired.
"I remember sitting on a school bus listening to [the band] constantly on the radio," says All Time Low guitarist Jack Barakat. "When you create such timeless pop-rock songs, you seem to always stay on people's minds."
If Barakat's use of the adjective "timeless" seems debatable, consider the band's early single, "Graduate," a sentimental, mid-tempo cut that has only become more relevant with time. The track opens with clean guitars and a two-hand-tapping melody akin to Minus the Bear's math-rock multitasking. The timid introduction is little more than a dynamic fake-out straight from the playbook of bands such as the Pixies and Sunny Day Real Estate, though: A subsequent explosion of cymbal crashes and powerhouse drop-D riffs comes off like Static Prevails-era Jimmy Eat World or a less stoned Deftones. Frontman Stephan Jenkins commands the stomping of distortion pedals, shouting, "Can I graduate?!" with a power nearly equal to Dennis Lyxzén's invocation of "Can I scream?" on the Refused's seminal hardcore cut "New Noise."
Although chronologically transcendent, "Graduate" was far from the most successful track on 3eb's self titled debut. "Semi-Charmed Life" infected America with a viral chorus of doo-doo-doos and became the group's biggest hit — and was possibly the highest-charting song ever to contain such unsubtle references to drug use. (Lyrics included "doing crystal meth will lift you up until you break" and "I took the hit that I was given, and I bumped again.")
"How's It Going to Be" and "Losing a Whole Year" both dealt with the well-worn territory of deteriorating relationships, but the predominately acoustic "Jumper" may have best predicted the shape of emo to come. The track deals with the tricky subjects of suicide and depression while remaining buoyant and optimistic. Jenkins' statement, "If you do not want to see me again/I would understand" is a stunningly complex sentiment, either self-deprecating or selfless, depending on one's position on the song's "ledge."
"We've always been influenced by Stephan Jenkins' lyrics and melodies," says All Time Low's Barakat, who later expresses an admiration for the frontman's "overall swagger." The hip-hop lingo fits the bill — just like Kanye West, Jenkins' confidence often outshines his abilities. He leans heavily on his sketchy falsetto on the choruses of "Semi-Charmed Life" and 1999's "Never Let You Go."
Similarly, Jenkins' lyrics are inconsistent, especially on the revitalized band's 2008 Red Star EP and last year's Ursa Major. Much like Rivers Cuomo of Weezer — a band whose 2001 resurrection closely parallels 3eb's resurgence — Jenkins has emerged from his cocoon a bit rusty. But whereas Weezer's "Hash Pipe" made critics cringe and fans scream, 3eb's attempted comeback single, "Non-Dairy Creamer," largely fell on deaf ears — save for tastemaking bloggers such as Stereogum, who mocked the song for its awkwardly political refrains of "Young gay Republicans!"
Even if Red Star and Ursa Major fail to reconnect Jenkins with his former essence, 3eb's army is unlikely to lose its loyalty; despite lukewarm reviews, the album debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 album chart. What Jenkins and company have become is hardly as important as what the group was — and continues to be — to its followers. The band unintentionally aided in molding the current form of emo, a type of music that romanticizes the past and honors its memories instead of the present tense.
In the closing lines of "Graduate," Stephan Jenkins asks, "Will the song live on long after we do?" The answer, thirteen years in the making, is clear.
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