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May 13, 2008:

Today's date is notable for two reasons. First of all, it's been precisely five years since Third Eye Blind's last studio album, Out of the Vein, was released in 2003. Secondly, it provides a reminder of the days when "Semi-Charmed Life" and "How's It Going to Be" first captured my attention on the radio a decade ago. Indeed, 2008 marks the tenth anniversary of myself being a fan of the band.

Information about an impending fourth studio release continues to simmer on the newsline. Currently, the album looks destined to be titled Ursa Major; with "more political" lyrical matter, a companion "B-side" album of session leftovers titled Ursa Minor, and a release point of "soon." Regardless of the specifics, this release is one that I certainly look forward to...and it seems more likely now than ever before that the album is nearing completion for release.

Unfortunately, looking back upon Third Eye Blind's career, one gets the sense that it's rife with wasted opportunity. Like most anything else, bands and songwriters tend to be most fertile when they're young. With the group's regular (if infrequent) updates on the status of Ursa Major/The Hideous Strength and a nearly continuous tour schedule, you might be forgiven for assuming Third Eye Blind recorded a wealth of content in the meantime. Yet the fact is that a grand sum of three albums (plus a compilation of rehashed material) have seen release throughout the band's career...only two of which fall within the last ten years by the calendar. By contrast, Third Eye Blind's '80s stylistic forebears U2 and INXS each released seven albums in their respective first ten years. No doubt a lot of content that could have made it to the band's initial decade of output never made it off the note sheet or was consigned to the cutting room floor.

Some of the songs still tentatively earmarked for destination on Ursa Major and Ursa Minor have floated around Third Eye Blind's live sets for as many as four years or more. This tends to run antithesis to creative wisdom: It's important to record material while it's "hot;" otherwise, how will it leave an impact if it doesn't sound fresh to its audience, let alone the artists recording it? The constant production tweaks and track-list shuffling that held up the release of Out of the Vein for a year did little to improve the ultimate quality of the release, while Blue—recorded in a few months under the constraints of record company-induced deadlines—is by ironic measure my favorite album. Obviously, the same considerations extend to the ever-extended wait for the next release as well: Will the topical and political references of the Ursa Major material even still resonate if it doesn't get released until another administration rolls around?

It seems that the majority of Third Eye Blind's activity over the last five years has been focused on touring rather than recording. There's nothing wrong with a bit of touring here and there—many bands make their living on it, after all—but tours ought to support albums, not the other way around. One is a material artifact that can be experienced and enjoyed again and again for many years after the fact, but the other is a fleeting moment that's over once. (The fact that their tour venues never seem to come near me doesn't help improve my personal enthusiasm, either...)

Of course, all the band's work on their next album would be moot if they didn't find a way for it to see the light of day. As far as I know, following the effective deconstruction of Elektra as a label in early 2004, Third Eye Blind have been without a record contract. How will they physically release a new album without one: A one-off deal? It remains to be seen...and unfortunately, I wouldn't be completely surprised by this point if Ursa Major actually saw initial release as a virtual download confined to the realm of computers rather than as a physical package.

Altogether, it's frustrating being a fan. Some point fingers at various targets for the "state of affairs:" Pressures and adverse interference from their label; the lack of pressures from not being signed to a label; Stephan Jenkins' "perfectionist" tendencies and supposed lack of work ethic. Without being intimately engaged in the affairs of the band, it's difficult to know for sure...and unfortunately, I don't think things are going to change any time soon.

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Last update May 13, 2008.