Pity the once-popular band that is still alive and shambling around 1. Years and years past the time when they were selling records and were a going concern, now stuck in a position of wanting to continue to do the thing that impelled them to start a band in the first place – i.e. write and perform songs for an audience – and stuck in a place where they have to figure out how to do that while also pleasing the people that want to hear them play, say, “Jumper”. This is the situation that the current incarnation of Third Eye Blind find themselves in, and it 2 is what leads them to record a covers EP, Thanks for Everything, which is what we find ourselves confronted with today.
Muddling that position is the fact that Third Eye Blind, the band itself, is currently a band containing one original member – singer and notorious blowhard Stephen Jenkins 3, while a version of the band, XEB, containing multiple original members 4, is out there playing the hits that people would be compelled to want to hear. I suppose there’s some calculus in the minds of the Third Eye Blind fan (?) to decide whether to go hear the songs they’re going to enjoy, or to watch some hired guns play new songs by the guy that wrote roughly 50% of the old songs.
The new material, then, appears to also be something of a mess. Like a lot of bands that depend on the record-selling industry’s support (such as it is), Third Eye Blind decided to go the “frequent shorter release” route in 2012. They released an EP, then announced a second one, Summer Gods, which sort of came out – they released an EP called Summer Gods that was not an album of new material, but instead of live versions of songs, most of which were hits from the before times, when Third Eye Blind had hits. One can assume, given this ambivalent-seeming interview in which Jenkins says his plan is to eventually release a full-length album comprised of songs from the EPs, that this was not the actual plan – unless he planned to release an album of half original songs and half live versions of songs everybody already knew 5. It would appear, to the casual observer, that the band is spinning its wheels. Jenkins even basically admitted as much, stating that “[t]he idea with this EP was to amplify some of that music and art, and in doing so, catch inspiration for our next album”. Sounds like a plan.
In the band’s defense, recording an album full of covers is a classic wheels-spinning move. The Rolling Stones were just praised to the rafters for doing it. Metallica did it and it revealed that they needed to fire their bass player 6. Rage Against the Machine did it to delay breaking up. But hey, it kind of worked for Slayer 7 and the aforefootnoted Tori Amos 8
It has, at least, drummed up more press for the band than anything else they’ve done in awhile – I was previously unaware of the whole “recording only EPs thing,” or anything about their continued existence. I suppose I was dimly aware that they were still out there, but I hadn’t considered them. Jenkins has filled the press with quotes about how much he likes this version of the band, and how intergenerational the audiences at Third Eye Blind shows are 9. Nevertheless, the whole project has a sort of “trying to get out of this box” quality that makes it seem more put-on than it maybe is.
The assemblage of songs – seven in all – is a white elephant sale of cover versions. Power-pop journeymen Happy Diving and sort-of-big indie band Chastity Belt make a little bit of sense, I suppose. Covering Babyshambles (the least-good of Pete Doherty’s bands) is always a publicity move, since there isn’t, y’know, anything going on in any of their songs 10. Tim Buckley and Bon Iver are the “respectability” bids, and Santigold and Queens of the Stone Age the “cool” bids 11. It’s hard to tell who is being communicated to, and what the communication is, other than “we are a band that likes popular songs and can learn to play them.”
The surprising end result of listening to them steamroll their way through the songs I was familiar with 12 was a sort of fugue state, where I thought about what “songcraft” is and what it means to be a rock band. That probably seemed loftier than it was, but I actually thought that a professional, relatively well-played cover band is not a terrible thing to be, and wouldn’t be a terrible thing for Third Eye Blind to be. It might even be easier than whatever it is they’re trying to revive here – it seems like it’s easier to learn a bunch of cover songs and use them to fill the set in between, y’know, “Jumper” and “Never Let You Go” or whatever. Obviously I have no business or artistic concern with Third Eye Blind, and am more than happy to let every band do what it is that they do, without it having anything to do with me. Preferable, really: it’s the only way to be surprised or have any kind of genuine moment of communication. Nevertheless, I think there is nothing dishonorable about deciding to perform other peoples’ songs, and that they would be well served by considering it more often 13.
So, in its way, it’s probably the Third Eye Blind that I found most interesting, and most genuine: even if they’re just trying to give the people what they want, they’re doing so by interpreting other people’s’ songs, and somehow managing to make them all sound their own thing 14, even if that “thing” is utterly free of nuance or anything that would mark it as distinct – it’s like someone turned seven really interesting dishes into seven soups – it’s not that there’s anything wrong with soup, as such, it’s that soup is hard to make distinctive under most conditions, and none of these things were actually soup to begin with.
And so we come back to the question: who the fuck listens to this? Leaving aside the obvious evergreen answers (Stans, trufans, whatever you want to call them)? It raises its own kind of curiosity, so maybe that would be enough to answer the question. But as with a bunch of these things, the question then is: who the fuck listens to this twice? I can’t imagine that question has an answer.
- in some form, see below. ↩
- in addition to some other factors, see below again. ↩
- to his (or the band’s) credit, he is also the only distinctive element of the band, as, as far as I can tell, no instrumentalist has ever played even a single distinctive note, but Jenkins’s voice is at least somewhat-memorable. Or recognizable, at least. ↩
- formed, dizzyingly, as a result of Kevin Cadogan, the band’s original guitar player and the leader of XEB, having been ousted from Third Eye Blind, Inc. because of a record deal that left Stephen Jenkins with sole control of the band. ↩
- a thing that almost kind of worked when Tori Amos did it on To Venus and Back ↩
- The efficacy of this move is, of course, a matter of some argument ↩
- I mean, Diabolus in Musica is the one right after Undisputed Aggression, but the album after that is God Hates Us All, and that’s a pretty effective comeback right there. ↩
- which actually tells me that Slayer might be the magic ingredient, as Strange Little Girls contains a cover of “Raining Blood”. ↩
- Although in the AZ Central link, above, he also states that their audience includes “a whole generation of millennials and even Gen Zs”, which is….not that large a range. ↩
- Jenkins explained it to Consequence of Sound by saying “There’s a raised fist in this song and that’s what we need right now.” Which, I mean, I guess so? But not really. It’s not as much of a “raised fist” as it is a “Can of lighter fluid doused all over oneself, and a struck match.” ↩
- twenty years ago, one of these would have been replaced by an “ironic” song, and it came as a small relief to me that none of these really qualified. At least the world has moved forward in this one small way. ↩
- Tim Buckley’s “Song of the Siren,” Queens of the Stone Age’s “In the Fade,” and Santigold’s “Not Our Parade” are songs that I knew outright. Babyshambles’ “Fuck Forever” and Bon Iver’s “Blood Bank” are songs I recognized from hearing them incidentally. I did not really know Chastity Belt’s “Joke” or Happy Diving’s “10” well, although I listened to them again to compare them for this, because I do research, people. ↩
- it brings to mind Beach Slang, who are known for playing an almost-absurd number of cover songs in their live sets, which are great. ↩
- including the extraordinarily ill-advised decision to perform “In the Fade” as a weird pop-funk reggae-lite bit of business that suits neither the band nor the song. ↩