If you were a teenager in the late 1990’s, you have most likely heard of Third Eye Blind. Their 1997 debut album sold over 6 million records worldwide, spawning mega-hits such as “Semi-Charmed Life”, “Losing A Whole Year” and “How’s it Gonna Be”. That’s right, pretty much all the chart-topping tunes that dominated american college radio through the last years of the 20th century. Now you may think to yourself, where have they been all these years? Didn’t they die out? Well, believe it or not, but the So-Cal Power Pop act is still alive and kicking. Sure, they may not get as much widespread attention and acclaim as they did back in the day, but it’s actually quite astonishing how well they’ve managed to hold up over the years. So much that their last album, 2009’s “Ursa Major”, became the band’s highest charting album ever. Even higher than their early multi-platinum records. It’s been almost 6 years since they last put out a set of original material, but now they’re ready with their fifth and allegedly final studio release, “Dopamine”.
Considering how long fans have been anticipating this new collection of songs, it is easy to think that frontman Stephan Jenkins has lost his mojo. The songwriter has even said that the reason why the wait was so long is because he had trouble finishing the lyrics. Not a good sign for a wordsmith of Jenkins’ caliber. But oddly enough, the prolonged process has somehow benefited his musicianship here on “Dopamine”, a record that is every bit as vigorous and catchy as the band’s best material, while still keeping things fresh and exciting for the listener. It’s easy to just write off 3EB as nothing more than a nostalgic trip down memory lane, which I feel is an unfair judgement to make. To shove them into a category of 1990’s fatigue is a downright insult, because Jenkins’ music is about so much more than just hooks and beats. He is a musical poet, and the 12 tracks on his latest disc are true testaments to the fact that he can still craft grand choruses, soulful melodies, and tongue-twisting lyrics like it was the most natural thing in the world.
The real achievement with this project is how honest it sounds, even after so many years in the making. There is a youthful energy to it all, yet it never becomes juvenile or indulgent. It feels truthful and sincere, like a middle-age man coming to terms with his own mortality, pouring his heart out as he looks back on many years of ups and downs. For that reason, this is perhaps also the most spiritual Third Eye Blind has ever been. The sound is still as cool and breezy as a can of coke on a hot summer afternoon, but this time the instrumentation is much more open and clean. Granted, we still get the occasional powerhouse anthem with tunes like the lead single “Everything Is Easy” or the hip-hop influenced “Rites of Passage”, which in many ways harkens back to the clever wording on “Semi-Charmed Life”. But what is really refreshing about “Dopamine” are the more stripped down songs such as “All the Souls”, which emits funky Motown vibes not previously explored by the band. “All These Things” is another example of how a simple idea goes a long way, serving as an uplifting and motivational pep talk for the broken and bruised. It is one of the highlights on here, just like the piano-driven ballad “Shipboard Cook”, which might just be one of the best songs Jenkins has ever written in his life. I’m not lying, it really is that good.
As a matter of fact, the majority of the songs here are mostly structured around acoustic instruments, adding a raw and organic feel to the compositions. “Exiles” shows that perfectly with its folk-inspired guitar riff and marching band drumming. It’s a simple but beautiful tune about never being alone and homeless as long as you have someone in your life that cares about you. It is fragile porcelain moments like this where Jenkins really shows just how capable he is as a songwriter, exposing himself to us like he is reading aloud from his own diary. Not many contemporary artists are bold enough to get onstage and be emotionally naked in front of the world. This guy is, though. His music is not a calculation, and I think that is why he took so long to write all the lyrics. It really means something to him, which makes for a much more authentic and relatable experience. You can tell that a lot of love and affection was put into this work, even if it doesn’t stray too far from what Third Eye Blind usually does. But for what it is, it really shines as one of the most pure and honest records of 2015. I’d almost go as far as to say that “Dopamine” is the best entry since 1999’s “Blue”.