We are time traveling forward with this 4th entry, all the way to 1997 for the self-titled debut of Third Eye Blind. Everybody remember “Semi-Charmed Life?” The answer is yes, we all remember that song. So while this album doesn’t technically fall under the “I’ve never heard it before” parameters, all I knew were the three singles and the rest of it was new to me so I’m calling it good.
From the opening power chords of the first track to the last seconds of the album closer, it feels like the mid ’90s. I might be inclined to argue that musical genres aren’t often categorized by decade as often as ’90s music is. Sure, the ’60s/’70s/’80s have a “sound,” but you can say “disco” or “funk” and people will know what you’re talking about, without needing the qualifiers “’70s disco” or “’70s funk.” Again, this isn’t the best argument because nobody says “’90s grunge” and grunge is a sound that defines that decade. But “rock” itself could mean anything, while “’90s rock” means something very specific. It means The Cranberries, The Spin Doctors, Alanis Morissette, Liz Phair, Smashing Pumpkins. It means the Tommy Boy Soundtrack. And it means this album.
After some listens, I keep coming back to the guitars. There is something about the guitar tone that eats up this whole album and screams ’90s. The guitars are distorted without being crunchy. It’s like the softest distortion possible, like distortion slathered in shea butter. It just has this kind of neutered sound, especially if you’re calling it “rock.” This is hardly rock, especially compared to the other “rock” that blossomed in the ’90s (grunge) or rock from other decades. There are just one too many I-V-IV chord progressions for it to sound rough, but over that you’ve got Stephan Jenkins’ singing his angsty heart out.
Maybe that’s what ’90s rock is to me, vocalists getting out some angst over kind of tinny distorted guitars. It’s an odd combination and it sounds so dated. That being said, it’s not unlike mother-of-pearl in old houses. It looks incredibly dated (like I’d find it in my grandparents house) but I actually like looking at it. So there you go. For me, this album is like the mother-of-pearl of rock. There’s a track titled “Thanks A Lot” for crying out loud. How much more ’90s can you get?
I enjoyed listening to this album, although it is pretty heavily weighted towards the front end. You’ve got the three huge singles and then a few other great tracks. It’s the back half that got kind of boring to me after the 5th or 6th listen.
And that’s often the sign of a driving record for me. In the last two weeks, I enjoyed listening to it the most when I was out driving, as on one hand, it was fun to sing along with the new songs I was beginning to learn. But even more so, it was the strength of the singles that I knew from teen years that made this a driving record.
Those singles. They definitely stand the test of time. I hadn’t heard “Semi-Charmed Life” or “Jumper” in years, but as soon as they came on, I was belting the words out like I had just downloaded them from Napster. These songs were pervasive in our culture, and a quick check on Wikipedia shows this album was certified 6x platinum by the RIAA. Meaning it has sold 6 million copies since its release. Can you imagine an album selling that many copies now? It blows my mind that that many people got behind this record.
But maybe that speaks to the timelessness of it, or more accurately it’s cultural potency. It spoke to exactly who it needed to, exactly when it needed to. There was a whole generation of X-ers who clearly identified with what Jenkins is singing about here. Song after song is failed relationships and the loneliness and isolation of being different than those around you. These themes clearly hit home with a lot of people.
Timeless is not the adjective I’d like to associate with this album. But that doesn’t make it a bad listen. Rather, it’s an album with a very clear musical timestamp, and that’s what makes it fun to listen to now.
Top 3 Tunes:
- “Semi-Charmed Life”
- “Losing A Whole Year”