Aged alt-rockers Third Eye Blind are back with their first (and allegedly last) release in six years: Dopamine looks to be the final swan song for the band synonymous with the 90s. Their brand of alternative- and pop-rock tinged with nostalgia has never quite been replicated, with frontman and songwriter Stefan Jenkins being a large part of what made them quite so on point. Everyone remembers Semi-Charmed Life’s downbeat, hip hop-inspired verses detailing the descent of a crystal meth addict, whilst Jumper (helped with a plug in 2010’s film ‘Yes Man’) still remains one of the best songs on the topic of suicide. With an album name like Dopamine, it looks like the band are going to be finishing how they started.
The album’s first track and lead single Everything is Easy is a departure from the band’s previous album openers. Rather than opening with a bang, the band open with a more controlled and restrained effort. The track still drips with heart and nostalgia from the riff and lyrics, but it represents a much more mature song-writing process than we’ve ever seen before from the now 50 year old Jenkins. The rest of the album continues in a similar vein: the band seem to be celebrating their career by creating the most nostalgic music they have ever made. Album closer Say It may be the best example of this: everything from the simple but memorable chorus to the final bass-line and riff invokes a feeling of sadness that it’s ending, but remembers that there is happiness it happened at all. It really has to be listened to in order to be understood.
Lyrically, Jenkins is as strong as he ever has been, although in some parts it seems he has taken the easy way out (he suffered writer’s block during the penning of the album). Title track Dopamine uses the clichéd ‘love is a drug’ metaphor that just seems beneath the band, whilst All the Souls – despite being a terrific song – is the standard ‘kids use technology too much and don’t appreciate what’s around them’ idea. Having said that, the chorus from All the Souls is the catchiest on the album, with a jaunty, falsetto tone carrying the song. Rites of Passage also has some less than inspired lyrics that are, again, carried by a strong chorus (even if the whistling part of the bridge is a bit cringe-worthy).
The second half of the album is noticeably more downbeat than the first, with several of the songs being semi-ballads. With Something in You, Get me Out of Here and Blade all coming in succession, it’s a welcome break when the upbeat All These Things floats into the album, driven by a pounding drum and uplifting guitar. This isn’t to say the previous three songs are bad, however; they just seem to have been placed badly. Blade calls back to the popular Slow Motion, with minimal instrumentation and haunting, narrative-based lyrics.
The quality of instrumentation and singing from the band is still as strong as ever. Nearly 20 years after their debut, Jenkins still carries the same unique tone he did in the late 90s, whilst, despite a line-up change, the band still manage to modernise the 90s style as they have done throughout the 00s. Jenkins’ trademark falsetto makes several appearances, although the semi-charming songwriter’s voice does sound strained at points, particularly on Something in You and Say It. Whilst this adds a little flavour to these tracks, it does seem to point to a slight struggle to do his previous performances justice, although here he admirably manages it.
This album doesn’t break any generic boundaries, but, then, the band have never intended to throughout their tenure so it makes sense for them to stick to what they know on their potential last release. Whilst some may demand more innovation from such a long-running band, Dopamine is still a really strong album and a return to form for a band that seemed to be losing their touch on 2009’s Ursa Major. It never quite reaches the heights of their eponymous debut album, and doesn’t have that one, certified hit like Semi-Charmed Life or Never Let You Go, but at this point the band don’t need it. They have achieved everything they set out to, and produced one final, solid album that will both please die-hard fans and potentially attract some new ones.
Dopamine is available now, and can be purchased digitally.