Third Eye Blind

A Collection

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Within the first page of the liner notes to the first Third Eye Blind compilation, 2006's modestly titled A Collection, it's revealed that TEB's lead singer/songwriter, Stephan Jenkins, is a Berkeley lit grad who has drawn heavy inspiration from Lou Reed, Camper Van Beethoven, and Jane's Addiction -- three late-'80s college rock staples who never have been name-dropped in association with Jenkins, who nevertheless makes the case for their influence not only within James Hunter's liners for A Collection, but within Jenkins' own track-by-track commentary on the album, too. Musically, Third Eye Blind always seemed far removed from this kind of rock underground; they had a streak of hits in the late '90s that were textbook post-grunge, building on the angst of early-'90s alt-rock, but giving it stronger pop hooks and polishing it up for a mass audience. Certainly, the millions who bought the band's 1997 eponymous debut did so because of the nagging chorus of "Semi-Charmed Life" or the bittersweet pull of their AAA ballad "How's It Going to Be" -- above anything else, they liked how the records sounded, not whether they were a response song to Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side" or not. And "Semi-Charmed Life" is indeed a response to "Walk on the Wild Side," which is one of many revelations that Jenkins spills in the liner notes, where he emphasizes the literary meaning and intent of the songs (for instance, of "Slow Motion" he says, "there's some Richard III" in there). For those who didn't pay close attention to Third Eye Blind, such gravely serious aspirations may come as a bit of a surprise, but upon reflection they make some sense -- after all, apart from the incandescent hook of their best song, "Never Let You Go," and the chorus of "Semi-Charmed Life," there never was a sense of fun about Third Eye Blind. They always sounded sober and somber, and A Collection proves that impression was no illusion -- in fact, it illustrates how Jenkins' self-conscious aspirations to profundity gave the band's music a stultifying serious undercurrent. Early on in the group's career, they had enough hooks and polish that this ambition was easy to swallow -- frankly, the hooks on the hits, not just the aforementioned songs but also "Graduate" and "Jumper," were slick enough that the songs went down smoothly, with little regard to what they actually were about -- but success allowed Jenkins to indulge in his delusions of grandeur at the expense of his craft (it also didn't help that his collaborator, guitarist Kevin Cadogan, left the band after their second album), a move that made his music less appealing to a larger audience. Even if this collection is not sequenced in chronological order, it does chart that shift in the band's sound, and the radio hits -- which are all here with the exception of 1999's "Anything" -- suffer from this context, since their proximity to the album tracks and handful of B-sides underscores the humorlessness of the band and the puffed-up pomp of the group's music. In other words, a little of this goes a long way, and so the very generosity of A Collection works against it. If this contained just ten songs, all of them hits, it would be a good testament to the band's peak as a modern rock radio staple. But at 19 tracks, A Collection is almost too accurate of a portrait of Third Eye Blind, capturing their early way with a hook as skillfully as their descent into unbearable pomposity.

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