Perhaps no band better encapsulated ‘90s radio than San Fran pop punksters Third Eye Blind, whose infectious, distortion-drenched, climb-up-climb-down melodies practically knighted them as guardians of anthemic airwave rock. Frontman Stephan Jenkins charmed his audiences with a poor man’s Bono routine, stretching into raspy vocal lisps and sandpapery falsettos whenever the melodic fuzz warranted.
Wisely, the trio’s fourth studio album, Ursa Major, isn’t so much an emulation of that bygone shtick as it is a celebration of it—a familiar, mindlessly fun ode to commercial alt-rock. Easily digested but not so easily forgotten, Ursa Major is tongue-in-cheek, candy-coated fare that thrives on the inevitability of listeners humming its contagious refrains days later, no matter how inanely predictable the tunes initially seemed. To wit, lead single “Don’t Believe a Word” is a heavy-handed political diatribe that manages to provide all sorts of readymade sing-along bliss in spite of its inherent triteness.
The formula is dependable and timeworn but ultimately successful, as Third Eye Blind follows the paint-by-numbers blueprint with stunning efficiency. The band knocks out the hummable, jangling “Bonfire,” the piano and horns-driven “One in Ten,” and “Dao of St. Paul” in calm, breezeless succession. The latter track, especially, is maddening in its ability to cloak all of Jenkins’s derivative tics with a catchy choral progression, but such is the compulsion of Ursa Major‘s seductive sound. It’s slick music for the last remaining gasps of a thoughtless summer, and a perfect foil for the rote bumbling and forced grandiosity of other similarly aged bands’ comeback offerings.