Looking at Third Eye Blind’s more recent output paints the picture of a band thriving in the ‘90s who probably would’ve been better off leaving things alone before the turn of the century. There’s no denying that Semi-Charmed Life, Jumper and Graduate were and, in many cases, still are college-rock staples armed with weapons-grade nostalgic bulletproofing, but the last decade especially has been pretty rough to say the least, with both Ursa Major and Dopamine having little to no staying power in the long run, and the EPs released in 2016 and 2018 being effectively nonexistent to anyone beyond the band’s surprisingly dedicated fanbase. And considering how it felt as though Third Eye Blind would be the latest band to make the full transition to shorter releases exclusively, not only does Screamer arrive as a surprise in the form of a new full-length, but also in the potential that the names attached to it could imbue. The big one is Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan serving as a primary creative advisor, but with featuring credits from members of Sleigh Bells, Poliça and Marijuana Deathsquads, it looks like Third Eye Blind are putting stock in a surprising amount of indie cred to deliver something of note from Screamer.
But when it comes to the actual album itself though, not a lot of that materialises. Rather, the ‘indie’ that Third Eye Blind have a greater kinship on Screamer couldn’t be more on-brand with a band past their prime and looking to regain something of a footing within the scene, as they pull from the murky, overwrought fare that characterises the genre’s modern incarnations and has never been any good. As such, Screamer falls victim to the same fate, lacking so much of the pop appeal that Third Eye Blind once had despite keeping such a relative proximity to it, and simply feeling like a forgettable husk of an album that rarely pieces together much in the way of a good idea. It’s not like the general trending downward of Third Eye Blind’s material makes this that much of a surprise, but for a band who’d seemed as though they’d begun to make some form of headway, to stall out as royally as this isn’t optimal for anyone involved.
The production is the main offender here overall, with the all-or-nothing approach of modern indie being embraced wholeheartedly for loud, frequently bloated squallers that does no justice to the sort of lithe alt-rock instrumentation that Third Eye Blind are capable of. Neither the title track nor The Kids Are Coming (To Take You Down) establish it as a production technique that works given how everything is crushed up at the front of the mix with extraneous synth whirrs and blocky production to beat away any semblance of remaining groove, and while Screamer never hits lows like this again, it’s not like there’s much to praise overall. The muddy, colourless garage-rock stylings across the board couldn’t feel more played out, and when the attempts at sounding somewhat lighter or more less clunky are piled on like on Ways or Who Am I, it makes for the sort of misconstrued indie-pop composition where the composition ends up so drained without fail, and the end product lacks any real character or driving force. There’s at least some lushness to the more tasteful power-pop arrangements of Tropic Of Scorpio or ebb-and-flow melody of Got So High which is really far less of a mess than it should be, but for proof that Third Eye Blind have no clue what they’re actually doing, attention only has to be turned to 2X Tigers, where the blocky, Imagine-Dragons-meets-SoundCloud-rap beat stumbles around with no rhyme or reason, as the gratuitous AutoTune on Stephan Jenkins’ voice makes the whole thing borderline unlistenable. It makes for an interesting case of how far Third Eye Blind are willing to go, especially when the coterie of ideas dished out across this album places those particular touchstones in every direction but the right one.
And for further examples of how directionless Screamer really is, one only needs to look at the lyrics, and how little they actually seem to match with the idea of rebellion that Jenkins’ has cited as driving this album’s writing. Sure, The Kids Are Coming (To Take You Down) and Take A Side are rooted in very broad archetypes of how that rebellion could be conveyed (and subsequently aren’t very good), but Screamer just doesn’t feel like an interesting case at all most of the time, largely defaulting to harmless but forgettable content that brushes across Jenkins’ further ideas of an “aspiration towards humanistic values” without much payoff. At best, there are tracks like Tropic Of Scorpio and Walk Like Kings which come across as pretty ossified love songs, but at least get by on some nice imagery to forge scenes of tranquility and light, but they’re rather isolated examples on an album which either doesn’t stick all that much, or, on Got So High, feels like a half-step towards a conceptual retread of Semi-Charmed Life in its drugged-out language, complete with “do-do-do”s towards the ends to really hammer the point home.
The only point that’s really gleaned from Screamer, though, is how obsolete Third Eye Blind currently feel, and there’s no pleasure in saying that. They were a good band back in the ‘90s, but strings of bad creative moves had led them far down the rabbit hole to this album, where they’re struggling to put any of that talent back in the spotlight when unflattering production and writing continues to muscle it away. Most of all, it’s hard to see who this is actually for; the diehards might gravitate towards it, but otherwise they aren’t doing anything that bands who’ve actually forged a niche in this sound haven’t already been doing for years. There’s really nothing meaningful that stands out long-term about Screamer, and when the general spectrum of quality spans from okay-ish brushes with quality to far more concentrated terribleness, it’s worth wondering what the point even is.
For fans of: Weezer, Sleigh Bells, The Kills
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Screamer’ by Third Eye Blind is released on 18th October on Mega Collider Records.