If you grew up in America during the ‘90s, I can guarantee you’ve heard at least one Third Eye Blind song. Formed in 1993 by lead singer/rhythm guitarist Stephan Jenkins and lead guitarist Kevin Cadogan, the San Francisco-based alternative rock band shot to popularity in the post-grunge ‘90s with their debut album, Third Eye Blind. Their efforts were met with great success; the album went six times platinum and featured several radio hits. Twenty years later, the album stands as the band’s most successful to date. The band became so synonymous with late 90s alt-rock that some people erroneously attribute other hits of the era to them.
Third Eye Blind is home to “Semi Charmed Life,” Third Eye Blind’s most popular single. The song sounds like a bright summer track about casually wanting more out of life–the stuff car singing and cliched Facebook statuses are made of. If you play closer attention to the lyrics, you’ll hear direct references to crystal meth and explicit sexual content. “It’s a dirty, filthy song about snorting speed and getting blow jobs. It’s really fun that people play it on the radio,” Jenkins told Billboard when it released. Presumably, many people who adore the song don’t identify with the drug references, but the bright tone and catchy lyrics keep their attention.
Other songs take on a darker tone to discuss equally complex issues. “Narcolepsy” could be about narcolepsy, but also perfectly encapsulates feelings of anxiety and depression. “And there’s a demon in my head who starts to play/A nightmare tape loop of what went wrong yesterday/And I hold my breath til it’s more than I can take/And I close my eyes and dream that I’m awake,” Jenkins sings, exploring how terrible it is to be trapped in your own head. “How’s It Gonna Be” beautifully explores the moment someone decides that a relationship isn’t working. You can practically hear the ache in Jenkins’s voice as he sings about what life will be like when that person is no longer part of the picture. Things get even darker during “Good for You,” which takes desire to an uncomfortable extreme.
Both “I Want You” and “The Background” take a slower, quieter approach to relationships. “I Want You” is a straightforward love song that doesn’t lose that Third Eye Blind feeling; lyrics like “The village church yard if filled with bones weeping in the grave/The silver lining of clouds shines on people Jesus couldn’t save” helps keep things on brand for them, as does a myriad of metaphors using drug references for desire. “The Background” leans on a strong guitar lick to look at how something or someone can stick in the back of our minds when things aren’t so great.
The album finishes strong with “Motorcycle Drive By,” a self deprecation-riddled track about a summer love story that ends because he’s not good enough for someone, and “God of Wine,” a song about a relationship that falls apart because of addition. Both have slower beginnings that build to a strong finish, not allowing an album with a variety of tone fizzle out into nothing.
Third Eye Blind’s strengths lie in their ability to combine bright, guitar-laden music and catchy lyrics with unexpectedly dark emotions and themes. Jenkins and Cadogan created an album all about what a mess life can be and how trapped one can feel–in your own head, in a bad relationship, in a town you hate. The casual listener might not catch how connected all of these things are to drug and alcohol abuse on the album–or how explicit some of the songs are, especially the most well-known ones.
Does Third Eye Blind hold up twenty years later? Absolutely. The album is solid from start to finish without a weak song in the bunch. The themes explored are timeless, the songs are still so memorable. People who appreciated their bright sound when they were younger can now listen to the lyrics and find new meaning in them now that they’re older. Those who are up for giving the album another listen are in luck: Third Eye Blind is touring in honor of it this summer.