For a band that writes seemingly simple pop songs, these guys take forever to work on their albums. This is only their fourth full-length over their 12 year recording career. I’ve always found Stephen Jenkins’ (lead singer and songwriter, rhythm guitar) work to either be brilliant, or pleasant but mediocre. He is a very wordy singer, and when all those words are not wrapped up in a decent melody with some energetic instrumentation, I find the songs really tend to drag. For example, on their previous album, Out of the Vein, “Blinded” is a wicked song with one of the best pop lifts into the bridge that I have ever heard, whereas “Self Righteous” is driven by a single guitar, with other instruments sneaking in here and there, six minutes long, and it gets quite repetitive with no changes in the dynamics.
Ursa Major is pretty much exactly what I would have expected out of a new Third Eye Blind album, wordy, sometimes half talked/rapped lyrics, motorcycle references, thoughts during the perceived slow motion of a crash etc. Same basic sound as the previous albums with a few new pieces; they threw in a little more piano(certainly there before but now on rockin‘ songs too), keyboard, horns, and some bigger/louder/weirder guitar sounds (like the Smashing Pumpkins or White Stripes-esque leads on About to Break, Summer Town, and Dao of St. Paul).
“Sharp Knife” – sweet, airy, heartfelt verses, big catchy chorus with vocal breaks to let the rock shine through.
“One in Ten” – acoustic driven song, I was scared this one was gonna get all long, wordy and hand-drummy on me, (damn hippies and their hand drums). But, it is thankfully short at under three minutes, and I really like the accompanying instruments, the horns were a cool touch, and I think it’s better to keep a song like this pretty much free of percussion, instead of putting in a quiet beat. I also might just like it because it is probably about Vanessa Carlton.
“Don’t Believe a Word” – Who plays that pre-chorus? No, it’s Third Eye Blind ripping off the Who, silly. Who cares? Maybe the Who, not me.
“Why Can’t You Be” – but just because near the start of the song, the girlfriend character (again, probably Vanessa Carlton) in the song asks why the singer can’t be a little more like her handheld water-jet massager, “a sweet, reliable machine”. Unfortunately there is about three minutes in the middle of the song that adds next to nothing to it. Once any song starts approaching 5 minutes, I usually start to ask why, and often there is no good answer (see Metallica’s “St. Anger”)
There are a couple references to other artists I caught on this album, on the Who-ish “Don’t Believe a Word”, after some screams over big full band hits (a la “Won’t Get Fooled Again”), Jenkins says “I hope we don’t get fooled again”. Also in “Summer Town” during the hip-hop/reggae/r&b-ish ending he says something along the lines of “wanna be hustles cool M.I.A., make a paper plane then you fly away” although his mumbly, speech impediment style of singing makes it hard to understand the line, the reference to M.I.A.’s song “Paper Planes” is obvious. I bet there are more in there, but with as many lyrics in a song as some people put on a whole album, it’s a lot to sift through. If you find another one, write it in the comments. He seems to throw them in when the style of the song reminds him of another artist.
Download for background music if you wish. Don’t pay for it. If you like to purchase single songs, the first three from the Highlights section would be worth it. Even if you are already a Third Eye Blind fan I’d download the album to check out what you like before throwing any money down. You might actually be more inclined to like this album if you don’t already have any other Third Eye Blind albums, because it might sound fresher to your ears than it does to mine.
note – after writing this, I re-listened to Out of the Vein, and if you haven’t heard that, check it out instead of this one, I think it is a much more solid album.