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Quick Spin: Review of Third Eye Blind's Album "Ursa Major"

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

URSA MAJOR

Third Eye Blind

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"Didn't we have some standards once?" asks Third Eye Blind frontman Stephan Jenkins on his band's first new disc in six years.

The answer: It depends whom you ask. In the late '90s, 3EB was the hit-generating embodiment of the pleasures and the embarrassments of alt-rock. The band was divisive. It inspired legions of fans whose devotion has only grown fiercer in the intervening years, like some semi-ironic version of the Kiss Army. To others, it seemed unbearably smug, a band that sang goofy, stick-in-your-head pop songs while acting as if goofy, stick-in-your-head pop songs were somehow beneath its dignity. It made Stone Temple Pilots look lovable.

It's not an endearing trait, and 3EB hasn't lost it. "Ursa Major" is its best album since their debut; it manages to be both thoroughly good and not at all likable. It's brainy and brawny and uncharacteristically vigorous, with credible forays into thrashy rock, No Doubt-evoking ska and political commentary ("Let's start a riot me and you/Cause a riot's overdue") that seems about seven months out of date.

It's not Jenkins's fault that he can't quite transcend his history; when he sings, it's always going to be 1997. He probably also can't help the arch sense of self-congratulation that suffuses every 3EB song, even the good ones -- and there are plenty of good ones. The disc's failed tracks are its most interesting: "Can You Take Me" is an exercise in telegraphed subversiveness; the tacky, harrowing "Water Landing" plays like a cross between vintage 3EB and Jack Johnson. It may be the best song ever to draw parallels between a plane crash and the end of a romance, something most other bands likely had the good sense never to even try.

-- Allison Stewart

DOWNLOAD THESE: "Don't Believe a Word," "Can You Take Me"


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