Tom Sinclair
May 16, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Out of the Vein

Current Status
In Season

We gave it a B

Remember Third Eye Blind? Five or six years ago, this San Francisco quartet seemed like the most creatively fecund bunch of Young Turks since — well, if not the Beatles, at least the Raspberries. Their self-titled 1997 debut spawned no fewer than five hit singles and sold some 6 million copies. While many scoffed at their image as a grunge-free, alterna-lite group of pretty boys, only the tone-deaf could deny the melodic strengths and sturdy craftsmanship of songs like ”Graduate” and ”Jumper.” Yet 1999’s ”Blue,” a transitional effort, failed to make an impact anywhere near its predecessor (did someone say something about a semi-charmed life?), and 3EB faded from public consciousness.

Now comes Out of the Vein, singer-guitarist-songwriter Stephan Jenkins and his gang’s attempt to reintroduce themselves after a three-year absence. Wisely, they don’t overreach by getting all arty and clever but stick to the template of their initial effort. Cuts like ”Danger” and ”Crystal Baller” leap out, flaunting a big, bright, clamorous sound; if anyone asks what constitutes ”modern rock” (an actual Billboard chart designation), play them one of these tunes.

Of course, if you’re immune to 3EB’s charms, there’s plenty here to sneer at. Jenkins still sings in that preciously theatrical voice that makes him sound like he spent his adolescence gazing into mirrors and reading poetry in a faux British accent — the better to cultivate his sensitivity and sophistication (not to mention impress the chicks). The clarion purity of the guitars will be anathema to those who prefer their rock with a bit of grit, their hooks barbed. If this music were personified, it would be a well-scrubbed, fair-haired boy with matching shirt and socks.

But don’t let that lad’s pleasant exterior fool you. The protagonists of Jenkins’ songs often have a caddish side. ”Blinded (When I See You),” the first single, describes a guy who lets himself into his ex-lover’s apartment and spies on her through the bathroom door. ”I see you fogging up the mirror/Vapor round your body glistens from the shower.” Is this dude a stalker or a lovesick chump? Jenkins leaves it open-ended.

Not every song offers quite so much food for thought. Consider the uncharacteristically languid ”Self Righteous,” which features guest vocalist Kimya Dawson of indie rockers the Moldy Peaches. At six-plus minutes, it proves that 3EB can get bland with the best of ’em. Yet those who’ve been waiting for these fellas to fulfill the promise of their first album won’t be disappointed by ”Vein.” Mostly, it pumps and choogles along at such a clip that there’s little time to focus on the shortcomings of individual tracks. Occasionally, you’ll wonder if they’re paying homage to the Who — ”Faster” sort of starts out like ”Baba O’Reilly,” while ”Blinded” seems to reference ”Pinball Wizard” — but ultimately this is prime 3EB: a tad pretentious, a bit slick, but catchy as hell. It may not open up your third eye, but give it half a chance and it’ll do wonders for your pleasure chakra.

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