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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Third Eye Blind’s Semi-Charmed Second Chance

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In the six years since Third Eye Blind released their last album to commercial indifference, the stars have realigned for the once chart-topping alternative band. After a long period of dormancy, the band's late-'90s hits have found second life on nostalgic radio stations and in the songbooks of frat boys with acoustic guitars everywhere. Jim Carrey, another icon of Clinton-era irreverence, even prominently covered "Jumper" in last year's hit comedy, Yes Man.

Most improbably, Third Eye Blind has earned strong radio play with a new single, "Non-Dairy Creamer," a proudly obnoxious jingle that, with its clumsy mix of whimsical lyrics and so-catchy-they're-cloying hooks, plays an awful lot like Third Eye Blind's vintage singles, albeit with a newfound political bent. It's "How's It Going to Be" rewritten as a gay-rights anthem.

With a new album, Ursa Major, coming out next month, the stage is set for a potential Third Eye Blind comeback, but frontman Stephan Jenkins isn't ready to exhale yet.

"I've just got this nagging feeling," he says. "There's a lot of Woody Allen in my veins, I guess."

Many musicians boast that they don't read their reviews, but Jenkins isn't one of them. He reads them, and that can't help his nerves any.

"They can burn," he admits, "because I want to do things that are really good. But I feel judged, and that's harder for me than I probably let on. I think we're a really great rock band, frankly, and I think that we've been pretty slammingly misunderstood."

Among the strikes against the band, Jenkins contends: They were poppy at a time when it wasn't cool to be poppy; they attracted immediate skepticism by being so successful from the start; and their songs were taken too literally, dismissed for their superficial silliness while their subversive undertones or hidden meanings went unnoticed.

"Somebody once described our music as pretty little songs with dirty little words, which I thought was great," Jenkins says. "We believe that you could have something that was catchy but also conveyed some irony, and some ambivalence. We couldn't get that across, though, with the way we were marketed. I never even saw one of our music videos; I had nothing to do with them. I'd have an idea for a video, but it would get pushed aside and then we'd get pushed into doing these silly photo shoots."

So Third Eye Blind got a bum rap, Jenkins says, but he believes history will vindicate his group.

"Over time all that stuff wears off, and what's left is the music," he says. "And now is a much better time for us. The perception of us changed radically, I think. The people who listen to our music now, our audience, is actually very young. They were probably 9 years old when our first record came out, so they didn't find our music through the radio, they found it through each other."

Jenkins credits technology for allowing the band to jettison the handlers that once misrepresented them, allowing the group to regain control of their image and harness their new audience.

"With the power of Web sites, I'm no longer interested in letting somebody who has the title of chairman interfere with our music anymore," he says. "Technology has democratized our ability to make and distribute music straight to fans. It's funny, because our band was a beneficiary of the last of the big-machine model of music, but we're also experiencing the cusp of a new model, one that works much better, and one that all bands can use. Now is a much better time to be in a band than it was 10 years ago."

Third Eye Blind plays the Riverside Theater on Saturday, May 30, at 8 p.m.