Third Eye Blind has gone political. That’s right, frontman Stephan Jenkins has made good on his promise, and after a five year hiatus, has pulverized his writer’s block to bring us “Non-Dairy Creamer”, the first single off the digitally released Red Star EP that sounds off against George Bush, KFC, school shootings, and the war in Iraq. And that’s just in the first verse! Don’t even get him started on homophobia and terrorism. It’s a good thing we have artists like him that aren’t afraid to tell it like it is. Without his rallying cry, I probably would have voted for McCain. So what if the song was released after election day?
I know, I know. Every artist has the right to be express themselves yada, yada, yada. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing wrong with musicians being political, especially in this day and age. But as much as I appreciate the show-don’t-tell methodology of albums like The Rising and American Idiot, the dire straits of the Bush administration have been responsible for some of the most bland, overly obvious, and just plain bad music of the past eight years. Toby Keith, Petey Pablo, NOFX – you could go all night with artists who have belched out repugnant filibuster slop inspired by their distaste with the current state of affairs. We all have our reasons to be angry, but blunt, lackluster sentiments like “the guy in the pulpit is a bigot and a liar” and “are you real to me, or are you non-dairy creamer?” wouldn’t even have sounded good four years ago.
The title track is more artful in it’s protest, detailing Jenkins’ infatuation with a woman during a cataclysmic rebellion, beautifully blending the personal with the political. Lines such as “the system shut us down, now we find each other in the underground” give the song a sense of revolutionary excitement. Fueled in equal parts by political passion and roaring hormones, the track sounds like a sister piece to Stars’ “Take Me To The Riot”.
To Jenkins’ further credit, he still knows how to craft a killer hook. For all of its lyrical shortcomings, “Non-Dairy Creamer” is the catchiest thing the band has written since “Never Let You Go”, built around their trademark fusion of treble laden fingerpicking, spacey synthesizers, and looped beats. Everything melts into the crunched guitars and sunny harmonies of the song’s climax, almost saving the middle school poetry lyrics with a graceful stroke of power pop. Lead guitarist Tony Fredianelli finally manages to fill the enormous shoes abandoned by former axe man Kevin Cadogan, illuminating the entire EP with the light-bending solos that were so sorely missed on the band’s last studio album, Out Of The Vein.
Rounding out the album is “Why Can’t You Be”, a live track that deals with a subject that has always been Third Eye Blind’s strong suit: sex, or in this case, unfulfilled sex as a woman asks her boyfriend why he can’t be more like her adjustable shower massager, “a sweet, reliable machine.” It’s an awkward, awful metaphor (almost as bad as comparing someone to non-dairy creamer) to start the song with, but thankfully Jenkins’ lyrics evolve to a more stream of consciousness flow that rattles off a dizzying, quirky array of what’s missing in the relationship. The song ends up being empathetic, but just barely, nearly losing us in the beginning with its cornball, hydromasturbatory talk. On a more positive sidenote, Jenkins’ pipes sound better than ever, seamlessly hitting every golden falsetto and playful whisper.
All three tracks are slated to appear on the band’s upcoming full length, Ursa Major in 2009. Sad to say, Jenkins has incessantly promised more politics from the next batch of songs. Let’s hope they’re more along the lines “Red Star” and not “Non-Dairy Creamer”. If he’s going to step up to the soapbox, he should do it with some subtlety.