From the first explosive I-got-you-in my sights delivery of charismatic frontman Stephan Jenkins, to the rolling rhythm section of bassist Arion Salazar and drummer Brad Hargreaves, to the signature guitar work of Kevin Cadogan, you realize Third Eye Blind is working from an inner zip code of evaporating bliss
Their 1997 self-titled debut album represents the coda of their do-it-yourself ethic. The fiercely independent band eschewed a bidding war by choosing Elektra, which guaranteed them complete control and the kind of creative home where 3EB could launch their musical assault.
The resulting LP is a breakthrough tonic for the senses, as well. As a hailstorm of guitars and distorted bass pelt the album's opener "Losing A Whole Year," Jenkins offers up twin salvos of regret and vindication, recurring themes throughout the entire record. "I remember you and me used to spend the whole godamned day in bed, " he wails. An Ian Hunter-like refrain both arena-ready and bar room righteous.
"For me music is exalting and intoxicating," says Jenkins.
Produced by Jenkins and recorded locally in San Francisco with Eric Valentine, who has been associated with the group from their very first demos, the album swings from the whimsical to the foreboding, creating a self contained 3EB universe - but it's a place you definitely want to know more about. Jenkins' unique phrasing and the Cadogan-to-Salazar-to-Hargreaves crackling exchanges juxtapose barb-wire tales with alluring ballads that pull you even further into their world.
This musical journey mirrors, perhaps, a line Jenkins sings on the album's elegiacal closer, "God Of Wine": "The God Of Wine comes crashing through the headlights of a car that took you farther than you thought you’d ever want to go. " The explosive ballad recoils - then fades - a smoldering climax so definitive of their style you can't believe they haven't loaded up a third side. It is only so often that a band comes a long and re-sets the clock like this, jarring our collective rock consciousness into a mutual recognition that something is indeed happening here. Their crunching blasts of eerily tuned guitars - their winding melodies - pared down at all the right moments by the brutality of Jenkins lyrics marks this debut as one of the most fully realized albums of 1997.
"I think the album takes you to a place you might be wary of entering, but are curious about" says Salazar. "I feel that in the attitude and in the playing. There is kind of a symbiosis going on. For example, I'm trying to make a melody that's not going to step on the vocal, but also accentuates Kevin's playing. We are not just biding our time on this record."
An understatement. Even though the band plays down the temptation to read any personal mythology into their song list, there are 3EB currents you can follow. "I think most of the songs are about loss," says Jenkins.
But not about having lost. It's a defiant Jenkins who spits out the wry anti-venom on the punky anthem "Graduate." The song is a stiff-arm to every wanna-be hipster waiting for canonization. "To the bastard talking down to me, your whipping boy calamity, Cross your fingers I 'm going to knock it all down," he sings in a chopped up drawl.
"I want this record to intoxicate people," says Jenkins. Inhale the stinging "Graduate," or sample the hook-laden "Semi-Charmed Life." Under the sheen of this percolating single is an insidious urban fable of a relationship gone wrong due to speed addiction. Not the kind of subject matter you'll find in your average pop ditty.
But both complexity and calm can be found in a song like "Motorcycle Drive-By." Written on a trip to New York, the song twist and turns, with the narrator finally returning home to crash in the beautiful but desolate surf of San Francisco's Ocean Beach.
Surfing, and the Chinatown Warehouse where the 3EB cabal makes most of its noise serves as the band's sanctuary. "We have a place where we go and meet and rehearse which is kind of away from everything," says drummer Brad Hargreaves. "We've never really been part of any scene. For us it's always been more important to make one of our own."
Ten of the album's 14 songs were written by Jenkins and Cadogan, with the remaining four written by Jenkins. But all agree it's the musical embellishments that the entire band makes that bring the songs to life. Cadogan points out they always leave room for last minute inspiration. "We came up with "Graduate" right before tracking," he says. About their song writing technique, Cadogan says: "Stephen and I always like to surprise each other. We work fast. I've been in a lot of bands, and believe me it's rare when you have a chemistry in a group where you can just feed off each other and the song forms out of that." The band members cite Cadogan's adventurous guitar work as helping to further define the groups sawtooth approach in creating serrated but palatable melodies. Says Hargreaves, who was the last member to join the band: "Kevin writes amazingly hooky guitar parts that are not rock cliches." Cadogan, who cites U2's The Edge as one of his influences, describes his methodology. "I get sick of hearing the same chords. I do a lot of alternate tuning On a song like "Narcolepsy" I use open tuning."
The group also cites Perry Farrell, Camper Van Beethoven and David Bowie as some of the early influences on 3EB's independent streak. But the ability to glide from the visceral to the more Iyrical just may be the defining trait of the band. The group has spent the past few months recording the album and are looking forward to reinterpreting their songs for their much anticipated live shows."