Review Summary: A vital sign that stays true, but ranks below the best of Third Eye Blind's ability.
If someone were to ask you what the four most memorable facets of the 90's were, your answer would probably look like this: 1) Fight Club. 2) Pokemon. 3) Michael Jordan 4) Third Eye Blind.
There isn't a soul in sight that can't finish the lyric: "I wish you would step back ..."
. The band has clearly branded their impression on any music lover or radio listener of the 1990's with their hard hitting guitar hooks that could only be topped by the raw poetry propelling out of Stephan Jenkins' mouth. Jenkins is that kind of writer that could woo a mother one moment, and then help her son sneak out at night to feel up the girl next door. Yes, they had songs to match any occasion whether it be for summer fun and familiar sing-alongs, or for dissecting captivating lyrics revolving around oral sex, murder, and drugs (their controversial and twistedly beautiful "Slow Motion" covers all three).
So it's no wonder why Ursa Major
has been highly anticipated since way back in 2007 – and then amplified in 2008 with the release of the successful Red Star EP
. Why wouldn't we want our alternative rock gods back again to churn our world and inspire our writings again? Here in 2009, they do a fair job at keeping their legendary status, but I regret to say they've done both rocking and inspiring better in the past.
It appears, at first, that their intent was to retreat back to their classic debut (I don’t think any of us would complain about that, eh?). It comes as a soft refreshment when they kick through the speakers again: "All I want right now is the time that we slept on the floor"
. Even the signature ‘first-line-grabber’ in “Can You Take Me” alludes to the very first song on their very first album ("I remember when we used to spend/The whole god damn day in bed..."
). The song remains pretty straightforward, but enjoyable nevertheless. If you were watching Tony Fredianelli whirling around to his insistent guitar, Brad Hargreaves beating the life out of his drumheads and washy cymbals, Jenkins igniting a personal party with his shrill and infectious vocals - "Let's start a riot, me and you, because a riot's overdue!"
- the song would surely accumulate more energy. Not a bad arrival at all.
For the new lead single of a beloved 90’s group, “Don’t Believe A Word” kept far out of sight from radar. Agreeably following the uptempo opener, we get good ol’ accelerated 3eb. The entertainment lies in picking up different lines every time you listen back – one being pretty obvious. I’ll never forget hearing the song for the first time live: "Give me back my photos, will you?"
Stephan demands, and then points to a random fan as the music cuts out: "You f**king whore, I’ll kill you!"
After the unexpected stun wears off, laughter and cheers break out and my friend turns to me and says, “…I kinda like that.” We probably all do.
Stephan’s lyrics are for the most part playful in this supposed serious song and even border on funny as he spoofs, "Rap stars bragging about shooting each other?/What ever happened to ‘brother, brother’?"
This album was hinted at being more 'political' and 'issue-related' than 3eb’s earlier ones, but well, this is the only direct political song. The references of soldiers and a ‘cruel-hearted fate’ are bundled up at the end of this fun single that stays true to most of the band’s shtick.
Once over this injection of optimism that occurs in the first half of the album, it sounds as though unfinished concepts and subpar melodies stick out all too much. The once anomalous way the stringy guitar sets up a blasting beat becomes a distant memory. For instance, it might sound overly critical, but “One In Ten” has virtually nothing to offer. It’s a hushed song featuring Tony on piano (Hargreaves on guitar probably) that doesn’t make the cut to being an emotionally penetrating serenade of any sort, nor does it particularly impress or hook musically. It’s as if the vocals are trying to bring something hidden out of the tune, but to no avail. As if we need more evidence that it’s in distress, the piano ends off the song in a segment that couldn’t sound cheesier.
I think with just a little more time, efforts like this and "Dao of St. Paul" could be elevated to a higher level. As inspired as the two songs seem, they fall forgettable among the album.
Thankfully, there are moments that resemble the hues of depression and affection that underlined Blue
. "Bonfire" has a great feel to it immediately. An electronic drum bit introduces the midnight acoustic pops before developing into a smooth alternative chorus. It makes for a great listen at night and I'm glad the band hasn't forgotten that aspect of music. "Water Landing" stands firm later giving justice to the aim of subdued magic by fluently leading us into the pounding, bubbly blend of reggae, rock, and well...pan flutes.
"Sharp Knife" is without a doubt one of the most top notch songs Third Eye Blind has produced. Everything is in place; the metaphoric lyrics, the piercing sentiment, the mixture of the dramatic snare rolls leading into the full-on rock chorus... Fredianelli caps it with a silver lining guitar solo that completely sells. The background vocals are spot on as Jenkins pleads "What you need is a sharp knife/Come back down from an all time low..."
The list of top tracks also has the moody "Why Can't You Be". Finally
a more satisfying page from Jenkins' poetry. He brings back the themes of sex and depression in this midtempo ballad: "Why can't you be... like the chicks out on the road?/Some girls are happy just to see me, 'cause you've got moxie and a broken nose."
It reminisces lucidly and unmistakeably to anguish like "How's It Going To Be". "You take 'em away from this blows/Sometimes a blowjob's not enough/Why can't you play a little less rough?"
His earnest sincerity shines through and eventually turns the song from bitter to sweet, making it a worthwhile journey through sadness.
It's frustrating to continually hear the band threaten to escape into their dynamic past before cutting off too soon. Ursa Major
does give you a fair share of their energetic spits tied with their unbelievable ability to make you feel at home in a dismal world. All too many tracks have a great plan, but fail to engage the listener like they used to as heard in the old punk attempt "Summer Town" or the heartfelt "About To Break" that contains scratchy distorted guitar riffs and builds into a noisy ballad. It is, however, Third Eye Blind. The songs may not catch on right away, but some time later, when you're sitting alone feeling gloomy, you might throw on Ursa Major
and find songs working for you that haven't before. One song specifically being "Monotov's Private Opera", with its charming vocals and drafty atmosphere, it can do wonders for a lonely night. Who knows? With this being only the first half of a two-disc set (Ursa Minor
coming later in the year), the sound of approximate completion may not have been in vain.