Review Summary: Paint By Number is like opening up an antiquated photo album filled with adorable baby pictures: while the adorability is undeniable, even the most genetically gifted toddlers can get irritating.
The journey deep into the brooding bowels of 3's discography is widely unorthodox; an enigmatic, yet curiously enticing glimpse into the lopsided evolution of Joey Eppard's progressive rock band. Before the startlingly technical and tasteful 'Wake Pig' and 'The End Is Begun'; before the brumous and forebodingly eerie 'Summercamp Nightmare', 3 was, in the purest sense, a funk-rock band with a healthy taste for peculiar pop-sensibility and small bursts of idiosyncratic Eppard-technicality. Yes, before the overtly climactic theatrics of songs like 'The World is Born of Flame' or 'Trust', 3 wrote groove-based alt-rock tunes like the winsome 'You Call Me Baby'; songs that weld bouncy, kinetic basslines with poppy, technical acoustic guitaring and slurred, emotive vocals. Flipping the pages of 3's catalogue back to page one recalls everything from The Police to Radiohead, an eclectic and monstrously juxtaposed piece of work when slated beside 3's future material. Does that make it bad? No.
Truth be told, it is, for the most part, magnificent. Yes, it being their debut, Paint by Number sometimes slips up, loses track and boasts sonically perplexing flaws, but most of the sidestepping and missteps are instantly forgivable; you can either chalk it up as a young band in the first baby-step stages of maturation or imagine it as a much more organic and unpolished effort, an album bereft of gratuitous studio sheen. The band, a trio at the time, plays off each other magnificently throughout the entire record and keeps things comfortably diverse and complex for their respective genre. First and foremost (as always), frontman Joey Eppard has an interesting role on Paint By Number: the lead guitarist. With reggae bar chord shots (Blood on the Blankets), bluesy guitar solos (Paint By Number) and tasteful harmonics (basically any song), Joey Eppard, while not quite at the peak of his musicianship, still puts forward a brilliant performance that immediately sets 3 ahead of their contemporaries. Bassist Christopher John Bittner (who plays lead guitar on the title track) is also a boatload of talent, exemplified most heartily in the slap-happy progressions of 'Better State of Mind'. Brother/drummer Josh Eppard (now of Coheed and Cambria) too boasts a different style than his future material and does a respectable job keeping a benign backbone to the album.
However, 3's historical photo album is not without it's faults; for the sake of the metaphor, Paint By Number comes with it's fair share of overexposed and coffee-stained photographs. To the untrained ear, Joey Eppard's developing voice sounds inexcusably feminine; dotting many tracks with effeminate moaning and snarky enunciation. Select tracks, with little potential to begin with, come with lyrics resuscitated from the deepest depths of songwriting hell, such as this token from the cringe-inducing 'Astroknot': "My name is Michael, I ride my bicycle." Luckily for Eppard, he is a more than capable lyricist and makes up for most of his mishaps with lyrical gems and alliterations throughout the record. Other disconcerting elements include the tempo-confused "Old Grey Dog" and the similarly disorientated "Leaving After All." Couldn't the band have spared the money spend on that extra family-sized eggroll-platter for getting a studio that actually used a click-track?
Conclusively, Paint By Number is a solid release; one that is made even more engaging when put into developmental context. The release comes with a bundle of catchy tunes and impressive musicianship that ties together a plethora of different (strange) influences together into one, functioning musical process. Sure, the proverbial road to progressive success began on a slightly bumpy, half-paved sidewalk, but Paint By Number lives up to the 3 standard (Joey Eppard Seal of Approval!
) and is an addictive and enticing release from a decade pre-Y2K and a band pre-prog.