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Third Eye Blind: Flying High

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For rock fans of a certain generation, San Francisco’s Haight Street holds a near mythic allure, evoking psychedelic memories of the legendary bands that once traipsed and tripped over its pavement. The Grateful Dead. Jefferson Airplane. Santana. Moby Grape. Janis Joplin and Big Brother. Ah, all the heavies.

Third Eye Blind is a latter-day San Francisco band. Their mood-altering substance of choice seems to be beer, mugs of which the group’s four members are sipping in one of their fave Haight Street haunts, a tavern called Mad Dog in the Fog, while discussing fame and their just-released sophomore album, Blue. While the group has a keen interest in achieving legend status, the jury is still out on whether they qualify as heavies.

Some listeners—presumably including a goodly portion of the 4 million folks who snapped up 3EB’s self-titled 1997 debut—profess to finding a wealth of depth, nuance, and poetry in songs like ”Graduate,” ”Jumper,” ”How’s It Going to Be,” and their chart-busting first hit, ”Semi-Charmed Life” (unofficially known as ”that doot-doot-doot song,” as well as a staple of TV commercials and movie trailers a year or two ago). Others—among them quite a few critics—view the band’s radio-friendly, streamlined alt-rock as decidedly lightweight, and of no more consequence than, say, matchbox 20.

”We can’t help it if we’re catchy bastards,” says Stephan Jenkins, 32, the loquacious frontman. ”We thought we were going to sell 300,000 records and be a critic’s band, but the critical reaction after ‘Semi-Charmed Life’ was, ‘Oh, they’re a one-hit wonder.’ But the joke’s on the intelligentsia. People have said that the [first] album has been a friend to them, a companion piece to whatever they were going through at that time in their lives. That to me is the ultimate props.

”Hey, Rolling Stone [panned] Led Zeppelin—one of the most influential albums of all time. I’d rather us be thought of as Led Zeppelin.”

This occasions merry agreement among the other boys in the band—guitarist Kevin Cadogan, 29; bassist Arion Salazar, 29; and drummer Brad Hargreaves, 28—who seem to defer to Jenkins whenever major pronouncements are called for. While 3EB is theoretically a democracy—Cadogan collaborates with Jenkins on much of the material, and Salazar cowrote a couple of tunes for Blue, as well as sharing in the production chores—Jenkins is clearly in charge. A onetime lit major, the hunky 6-foot-2-inch singer swings the hammer of his outsize charisma like a rock god to the manner born. Going quadruple platinum seems to have obliterated whatever traces of humility may once have been present in him. He’s even snagged the ultimate rock-star trophy—a gal pal of the rising-young-actress variety, South African bombshell Charlize Theron, who just adores Third Eye Blind’s music.

Blue (3EB seems unaware of Joni Mitchell’s classic 1971 album of the same name) is a quintessentially ambitious second effort, complete with string arrangements and sprinkled with exotic instrumentation (mellotron, theremin, electric sitar). Jenkins dismisses the disc’s first single, ”Anything”—a two-minute sonic stampede that has yet to make much of an impact—as ”just sort of a starter track.” A better bet for chart action is ”Never Let You Go,” a slice of new-wave power pop that recalls vintage Cars and is slated to be the band’s next video. Then there’s ”The Red Summer Sun,” on which Jenkins executes a droll Zep homage, singing, ”Been a long time since I walked with the mighty…,” in a strangled-cat Robert Plant falsetto.

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