After years of prolonged and unfulfilled anticipation, Third Eye Blind finally releases their new album, Dopamine. It’s the San Francisco band’s first album since 2009’s Ursa Major, and only their fifth studio album since the band’s formation in the mid-1990s. Over the years, Third Eye Blind and the band’s creator and frontman Stephan Jenkins have taken their time putting out new albums, but album five in particular seems to have been teased and touted as much as, if not more than, any of the previous Third Eye Blind releases.
In September 2012, I reviewed a day festival in Milwaukee in which Third Eye Blind headlined. It was a one-off show for the band and amongst the crowd-pleasing hits they played that night, they included an untitled new track ( one that would become Dopamine’s “Shipboard”). Even back in 2012, the mystique of #album5 was in full bloom, and I remember near the end of the band’ set, Jenkins addressed the crowd, stating that after the show they were going to fly back home and finish album five. And I remember him saying it with an affirmation that the album was close to being finished, as if the potential for a spring/summer 2013 release date was all but guaranteed. Nonetheless, nearly three years after that show, album five has arrived .
Prior to releasing Dopamine, Third Eye Blind went 12 years having only released one album, and it worked impressively well for them. As far as bands that have been around 20 or more years, Third Eye Blind is living a charmed existence. Not only do they maintain a cult following amongst the 30-somethings who first caught wind of the brilliant self-titled debut in 1997, but those same songs have ignited a passionate fan base amongst new generations. Even through the lineup changes and lack of new material, Third Eye Blind has continued to tour regularly, and, they still sell out shows. The audience includes everyone from 40-year-old dads who’ve been to a dozen or more 3EB concerts, to high schoolers hearing “Jumper,” “Graduate” and “Semi-Charmed Life” played live for the first time. One thing both sets of fans have in common? Everyone knows all the words to every song.
You can’t go into Dopamine looking for a six-year, grand-slam payoff. It’s almost unfair to a band that has taken nearly 20 years to release five albums. The more sensible approach is to take it as a collection of new songs to supplement the already beloved and well-known Third Eye Blind classics. Lead single “Everything is Easy” begins Dopamine on an airy, likable note. Powered by Jenkins’ commanding lyrics of longing, the track is a fine first single. The stirring “Back To Zero” is another Dopamine highlight. The melody is charged, dark and absorbing. Jenkins sings of an impulsive and reckless, but, all-too-necessary reinvention (“Rebuild my life at 17th and Capp,” “Get through one more day of missing you”).
Rock opera “Get Me Out Of Here” is a refreshing new cut– a wonderful revelation that Jenkins and the boys still aren’t taking themselves too seriously. Piano-tinted “Shipboard Cook” holds its own behind Jenkins’ passionate spoken-word bridge, while “Something In You” features a fantastic arena-rock, guitar-driven finish. But at times, Dopamine seems to find Jenkins too closely retracing Third Eye Blind songs we’ve already heard. Solemn ballad “Blade” shadows the devout “God of Wine” while album closer “Say It” sounds like the less poignant pt. 2 of Ursa Major highpoint “Why Can’t You Be.”
Quite possibly the best Third Eye Blind song released in the past six years isn’t even on Dopamine. It’s a free download on the band’s website. Third Eye Blind’s cover of Beyonce’s “Mine” is the perfect Third Eye Blind song. It’s infectious and engaging, hung-up yet empowered; a track begging to be played again and again. And though a cover song, “Mine” is somehow dripping with Third Eye Blind authenticity.
Jenkins has often referred to album five as the band’s last full album, implying that future Third Eye Blind songs will be released as singles. This would spare Jenkins the daunting and painstaking task of writing and compiling a complete album, which, as fans are well aware, has never been a timely, easy process for him.
Altogether, the Dopamine release felt rushed. The albums was announced a little more than a month before its release date. There was no immediate vinyl release, or special deluxe versions, not even complete lyrics listed in the CD packaging booklet. Did Jenkins finally want to finish the album in order to sync it with with the band’s massive 2015 summer tour? Possibly. But, more than anything, I feel Dopamine had to be released so Jenkins could fulfill his long overdue album-five promise, and could begin working on writing and releasing songs in the most fruitful way he thinks is possible: immediately released singles. Will it actually happen? Nothing is ever certain with Third Eye Blind, but if the “Mine” cover is any indicator, fans won’t be disappointed if there is never an album six.