Review Summary: Everything is not that easy.
Third Eye Blind was one of the quintessential bands of the 90s. Everyone and their mother sang along to the “doo doo doo”s of “Semi-Charmed Life” and can instantly finish the line “I wish you would step back from that ledge, my friend…” Most people alive during the last twenty years could probably name you a few songs by the San Francisco-based band. Their poppy, upbeat brand of alternative rock was almost always backed by despondent, melancholic lyrics; it was their niche, and it was what made their 1997 self-titled debut one of the best of the decade. Even as their popularity waned, they still made quality music, and 18 years later, Third Eye Blind are still alive and kicking.
, titled after the chemical inside the brain that activates during happiness, shares many qualities with its namesake. There are some upbeat, bouncy, energetic tracks that have the classic Third Eye Blind sound and feel straight from the 90s. Even at 50, Stephan Jenkins still sounds like he did in his prime, rattling off lyrics about heartbreak with tons of emotion in his voice. The band’s knack for counteracting energetic instrumentation with lyrics about lost love and post-breakup depression is still in full throttle. Although Ursa Major
was wildly inconsistent, Dopamine
is a better listen that benefits from better songwriting but suffers from a weak end and the inclusion of a few uninteresting songs.
Like their self-titled debut, Dopamine
is a tale of two halves. The first few songs are bright, upbeat summer anthems in the vein of “Losing a Whole Year” or “Semi-Charmed Life”. The album starts off with “Everything is Easy”, a track that contains all the elements of a classic Third Eye Blind single. The hook is nothing short of catchy, and the same applies to its bridge. Only Stephan Jenkins can make the line “you’re gonna be so sore” sound so infectious, and it definitely proves why it deserves lead single status. The title track also makes a good argument, featuring a stand-out chorus, a hard-hitting drumbeat and a gorgeous falsetto. “I’m naked and pretty, but I know I mean nothing; I’m just drugs to you,” Jenkins cries with a voice as addictive as crystal meth. “Shipboard Crew” stands out the most, with lyrics revolving around an extended maritime metaphor and an ending that instantaneously draws comparisons to the timeless “Motorcycle Drive-By”. Even though Kevin Cadogan may not be the man working the guitar, the way the instruments pick up towards in the end plays well with Jenkins’ chaotic singing, culminating in the angst-ridden repetition of “I’m always a ghost” as the riff decrescendos into a piano outro. For the most part, the first few tracks fill their role as uptempo, peppy tunes, even if only a few stand out.
The second half of Dopamine
is much slower with more ballads, providing a stark juxtaposition to the cheerful, upbeat beginning. After “Back to Zero”, none of the tracks on the album are written in a fast tempo; instead, there’s a larger emphasis on piano-driven songs and more vocal restraint from Stephan Jenkins. There’s an increased contemplative mood, allowing the poignant lyrics to shine a bit more instead of hide under the breezy melodies. The gradual crescendo from slow and quiet to an explosive climax is prevalent throughout, most notably on the repetitive but electric “Something in You” and the emotional “Get Me Out of Here”. It’s here where the album falters though; most of the second half is similar in structure, and the bland nature of certain tracks are underwhelming especially since they’re all placed next to each other.
For a while, fans of Third Eye Blind were convinced that they were never going to get a follow-up to Ursa Major
– after all, it came out seven years ago, and the band’s promises of releasing new material never came to fruition until now. While Stephan Jenkins can still sing with emotion and write one hell of a song, there’s still something missing that prevents Dopamine
from taking that extra step. There’s a clear division between the upbeat and the melancholic, and that causes the unmemorable tracks to stand out the most because they’re surrounded by other, superior versions of their kind. “Rites of Passage” and “All the Souls” pale in comparison to “Shipboard Cook” or “Everything is Easy”, with the quality gap extremely noticeable. Overall, Dopamine
is a solid listen, but at this point it’s clear that Third Eye Blind’s best days are behind them.