The kind of emotional and formal fire Third Eye Blind build on “Never Let You Go,” their current hit, has rocked producers, radio programmers, and pop fans for almost four decades. And from the Beatles to the Cars to Nirvana, these blazing structures always start with a song. Third Eye Blind’s is a tentative breakup tune, written in a straightforward way but nonetheless weirded-up by singer and songwriter Stephan Jenkins—unexplained tense shifts, family references, and sudden white-rapped equations of his probably departing girlfriend with “sunburn.” It’s quite a droll overlay of unhurried spite. “Maybe we’ll be friends,” at one point he supposes. “I guess we’ll see.”
“Never Let You Go” sounds great on the radio, where after hearing it a few times you think it’s the classic that Jenkins and his several coproducers intended. Jenkins’s sung melodies are miniaturized tunes repeated and linked together with prismatic transitions; as boldly catchy as the record is, its impression is never as outsize as that of triumphantly crisp pop-rock from, say, .38 Special or their ’90s heirs, Stone Temple Pilots. Instead, Third Eye Blind do something completely rock: They shove accompaniment down people’s ears. So you have countermelodies, really, with loud gun-metal guitar voices—distorted just so and never interfered with by any other instruments, never stepped on by the faintest bit of overtone or air in the mix—running a lot of the show. They’re guitars acting with the presence of mind of some insanely proficient chamber music outfit.
Few bands ever summon this level of patience and restraint, but Third Eye Blind manage both with gravity and wit. Maybe someday people will wake up and see that headbanging composition like “Never Let You Go,” far more than ill-considered noise or jazzlike improvisation, represents rock and roll’s key contribution to Western music. I guess we’ll see.