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Album review: Third Eye Blind's 'Ursa Major'

August 18, 2009 |  6:25 am
Third_eye_blind_240_ This San Francisco alt-rock outfit hasn't released a new studio album since 2003, back when it was still riding on the fumes of "Semi-Charmed Life," its late-'90s radio smash. But just as Weezer's cult classic "Pinkerton" eventually came to influence a generation of young emo bands, Third Eye Blind's music has over the intervening years become an unexpected touchstone for groups like Panic! at the Disco and Boys Like Girls -- acts that didn't even exist the last time Third Eye Blind was an aboveground concern.

Perhaps it's that after-the-fact renown that's kept frontman Stephan Jenkins in fighting form, for rather than seeming like an aging has-been on "Ursa Major," Jenkins instead comes on like he never left the scene. In fact, with its pulsating rhythms and crisp guitar fuzz, the new record actually does a better job of extending the band's early work than did its lukewarm previous effort, "Out of the Vein."

The Third Eye Blind sound is still appealingly idiosyncratic: Though he's a fine melodist, Jenkins often sings with the percussive attack of a rapper, as in "Don't Believe a Word," where he takes part (invited or not) in the ongoing conversation regarding hip-hop's sociocultural obligation: "Rap stars brag about shooting each other / Whatever happened to, 'Brother, brother'?" he sings, invoking Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On."

And though founding guitarist Kevin Cadogan left the group following 1999's "Blue," Jenkins here expertly re-creates the hard-edged jangle that always distinguished Third Eye Blind from its blander radio-rock peers, such as Train and Matchbox Twenty.

Will "Ursa Major" catch on commercially in the new digital age? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, expect its charms to echo for a while.

-- Mikael Wood

Third Eye Blind
"Ursa Major"
Mega Collider
Three stars