Album Review: Third Eye Blind – Screamer

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Third Eye Blind certainly didn’t make it out of the 90’s completely unscathed. While their fans have always been hyper-loyal, things seemed bleak following 2003’s Out of the Vein, which failed to reach the sales peaks of their previous efforts, and came around during a changing of the rock guards. Yet, the group persevered, coming back strong with 2009’s Ursa Major, and proved to the world they are still an extremely viable band and touring act.

With Screamer, 3EB are on the attack, with a collection of songs that sound like classic 3EB but with an adrenaline injection and a few loud moments of creative experimentation. While Smashing Pumpkins‘ Billy Corgan is being touted as the band’s consigliere on this collection, whatever influences he had are meshed well within these kinetic bangers.

The title track and first single “Screamer” opens with an unsettling synthy pop production and kid gang chorus, but once Stephen Jenkins’ vocals come in, the song becomes pure rock urgency, with a propulsive drive and surprisingly airy duet between Jenkins and Sleigh Bells‘ Alexis Krauss. The song is a rally cry, and a great start for energizing listeners. Even better is “The Kids Are Coming (to Take You Down)”, a powerhouse anthem about a punk rock girl (“She’s got the black ink on her shoulder”) that doubles as a warning to those in power to keep an eye out (“I’m beginning to think we’re getting stronger. Finally show our teeth!”).

The opening to the summery “Ways” sounds like a bigger statement for Third Eye Blind‘s current existence; “The truth is, I’m just glad I’m here”, as Jenkins tackles the pop/hip hop  style chorus with a west coast twang. Whether you enjoy the song’s lyrical posturing depends on how serious you take Jenkins, who seems to be having fun taking the piss out of whatever critics may throw at him; “Now let me see you talk shit!” There’s always been a bit of street subculture and braggadocio in Jenkins’ lyrics, and he has it on full display on Screamer. Take “Tropic of Scorpio”, where Jenkins calls himself a “punk rock motherfucker with some dirty dirty armor”. Whether you consider 3EB punk rock or not, there’s no denying how catchy the song’s huge chorus is.

There is certainly a reach towards more mainstream sounds and production throughout the album. “Walk Like Kings” finds Jenkins flaunting a rappers’ attitude (“all these motherfuckers fucking with my flow”) over a stuttering beat and slow, moodier verses, with the chorus sounding nearly EDM-esque. There’s more electronic augmentation on “Turn Me On”, but what stands out most on that song is the ending lyrics “and I hope you’ll come around”, where Jenkins shows a rare moment of vulnerability.

Past the boasting, there’s clear evidence that Jenkins (who is a very outspoken advocate on climate change and other political issues) has world affairs on his mind, though not always overtly. As he sings “like the sound of thousands running, didn’t have time to be terrified” on “Light it Up”, he could easily be addressing the feeling of a mass shooting victim. An ode to those lost in tragedies, the track appropriately dons light gospel touches and vocal effects towards the end to elevate the atmosphere.

The track that will likely be the most divisive to fans is “2x Tigers”, which utilizes the kind of heavy auto-tuning and Top 40 overproduction that fans like me turn to rock music (and bands like Third Eye Blind) to get away from. Credit should always be given for a band attempting something new and going outside their comfort zones, but this stab at 2019 songwriting did not work for me personally.

Luckily the album ends on a sweeter note, with the inspiring, acoustic “Take a Side”. Of Screamer, Jenkins has said “My current mood resonates with rebellion, energy, courage, and risk. I seek to combine it with a percussive level of musical immediacy in this collection of songs to cultivate collective idealism and an unapologetic aspiration towards humanistic values.” In terms of rebellion, energy and risk, these elements are all on display on Screamer. It’s an album that (with one or two minor exceptions) should keep 3EB’s loyal following just as excited and loyal to the group, and perhaps even garner some admiration from their usual critics if only based on their shameless audacity. Whatever side of the fence you stand on, the album is worth a listen.

The album drops October 18th. Listen to “Screamer”, “Walk Like Kings” and “The Kids Are Coming (To Take You Down)” below.

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