Thursday, November 20, 2008

Red Star EP - Third Eye Blind

Red Star EP

Third Eye Blind

SCQ Rating: 68%

Hearing the first new Third Eye Blind in five and a half years presents a certain dilemma… one identical to what I faced in May of 2003, hobbling across my hometown mall’s parking lot with a fresh copy of Out of the Vein in hand. Crossing to the nearest bus stop, I suddenly said aloud: “Wow, am I even going to like this band anymore?” A fraction of reasoning for this outburst was likely due to a mono/strep-throat combo that kept me fevered and under house arrest for days but, for the most part, I was recognizing that Blue, their previous album, was my favourite new record five years earlier. When confronted with a band like Third Eye Blind, whose sound is singular and unlikely to fiercely change, five years is forever; imagine all the friends, records, opinions and love interests passing through those years that shape and refine one’s musical tastes? Out of the Vein more than satisfied my doubts, eventually being crowned as my favourite of Third Eye Blind’s output and #1 record of that year. So another half decade later, another gauntlet is dropped; this time in the form of Red Star EP, a teaser for their long-awaited full-length, Ursa Major, due in February.

Even for fans who caught on to the San Francisco band last week, hearing ‘Non-Dairy Creamer’ for the first time is disappointing. What deems the lyrics so lame and occasionally embarrassing is how much vocalist Stephan Jenkins tries to cram, as if the song’s a social commentary on every headline missed during his extended vacation. Covering school-shootings, the occupation of Iraq, breast implants, STDs and the authenticity of KFC chicken within its first minute, ‘Non-Dairy Creamer’ defines a b-side’s penchant for aimless lyrics and jam-oriented instrumentation. The melody itself is fine, if a bit recycled, but the mix sounds off and I personally hope this track is exclusive to Red Star EP.

‘Red Star’ is thankfully better, cleansing the awkwardness of the lead track away and finding Jenkins and Co. at their best with this hazy rock song that marries Jenkins’ lyrical love-letters to steady drums and moody swells of guitar. Closing the disc is a live take of new song ‘Why Can’t You Be’, which, rip-off aside (c’mon, the EP is three tracks and one is live? Us fans deserve better than this!), suggests a poignant ‘How’s It Gonna Be’-style ballad, but with better lyrics and lacking the 1997 hit’s overwrought anthemic quality. Like the EP itself, ‘Why Can’t You Be’ hints at greatness that, upon the release of Ursa Major, I hope is realized.

This isn't an actual EP, comprising songs connected by time or theme, but as a teaser, this accomplishes a small feat. After a shaky start, Red Star EP is convincing on two fronts: the band remains committed to its core-sound but adventurous nonetheless, and Jenkins hasn’t lost his flair for memorable lyrics. Despite this EP’s brevity and one regrettable track, Third Eye Blind have likely passed another litmus test with patient fans, holding our disgruntled gaze for a few months longer. No matter how Ursa Major turns out (or if it comes out at all), Red Star EP has reminded me, once again, that I’m an ardent fan, willing to drag myself through sickness to hear their music at any cost.

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