San Francisco’s Third Eye Blind hit the big time with their 1997 self-titled debut on the strength of a handful of singles (it spent 104 weeks on the Billboard chart). Despite the initial success, Third Eye Blind never maintained a broad audience with subsequent albums; as they evolved, they became too pop for the alt rock crowd and too idiosyncratic for the the mainstream crowd, eventually finding a core audience of fans while being relegated to late-90s post-grunge one-hit-wonders.
Dopamine, their first album in six years pick up threads from 2009’s underrated Ursa Major, which saw the band accenting their signature guitar-driven pop-rock with extra textures. This new album is also the band’s most polished effort, which is saying something considering the they’ve always favoured clean production, pop sensibilities, and accessible hooks: lead offering “Everything is Easy” is the band’s slickest single yet (with a Peter Hook-ish bassline to boot); the mid-tempo “Something in You” builds to crashing singalong anthem that has the good sense to know when to call it quits.
The production may be slick almost to the point of being sanitary, but frontman Stephen Jenkins hasn’t lost any of his wit or bite as a compelling lyricist. Songs still have an emotional tug and Jenkins bares his soul through his through his words and performance. One of Dopamine’s standouts is the driving, introspective “Shipboard Cook,” which feels like the spiritual cousin of the deep cut “Motorcycle Drive By” from their debut. Another highlight, “Back to Zero,” is crisp, airy, and melancholy, sounding like a lost late-80s gem. But the album also finds the band alive and playful: “All the Souls” and “All These Things” both bounce along with a chipper acoustic strum and giddy vocals; “Get Me Out of Here” has wry, tongue-in-cheek lyrics and appropriates 70s-era Queen and Bowie moves; “Rites of Passage” borders on dancey and closes out with a funky extended coda.
Dopamine may not be the band’s strongest effort; every track is catchy and immediate, though not all leave a lasting impression once the album is done (“Blade” and “Exiles”). It’s a solid album of carefully crafted, soaring stadium rock and intimate lyrics. The band’s not looking for reinvention nor are they simply resting on their laurels; rather Third Eye Blind sounds invigorated and finds success in seeking to perfect their form.