Loading…

“What Kind of Song IS ‘Camouflage’ by Third Eye Blind?”

In a way, Third Eye Blind never really went away: they’ve been offering quality albums at competitive pricings, every two years, for the last two decades and change.

Well, that’s a fallacy. And the reason why that’s a fallacy can be synopsized in two words: Kevin Cadogan.

Cadogan was the lead guitarist in the band, and usually the SOLE guitarist, if you can believe it (with Salazar on bass, Hargreaves on drums and Jenkins typically just clutching that mic like a bag of Halloween candy), for their first two albums, Third Eye Blind and the exorbitantly underrated 1999 effort Blue. The reason why he left the band, per reports, has to do, then, with his tandem role in songwriting, not in the lyrics but certainly the melodic groundworks of the majority of their major songs from those two vital records, and inappropriate compensation for said efforts.

But even in addition to things like song structures, chord progressions, tempos and guitar EFFECTS, (pedal, whammy bar, mix balancing or unbalancing) which serve to formulate a primary part of the song’s texture, just think of all the classic RIFFS for which he’s responsible. Just to go in order, to name a few but probably not all, there’s the bridge to “Jumper” mid-song leading into the “yah-yah-yah” vocal outburst, there’s the intro to “How’s it Going to Be,” there’s the intro to “God of Wine” in which he hits that incredibly trippy octave interval in the fourth bar, there’s the intro to “Wounded,” a mountain lion of an anti-rape song that could stand alone musically even without that humanistic theme, and, just to name one more there’s that little frill in the chorus of “Darkness” (and really even the intro to “Darkness”) that seems so simple but gives the song an incredible, aerating, cathartic and almost psychedelic feel to it, all within its format of listenable, radio-ready mainstream alternative rock.

The band’s sophomore effort, Blue, which showcases those latter two songs, is the machination of a band fully hitting their stride: producing their own material, having fun with the lyrics (“10 Days Late” sardonically offers the line “Guess I’ll always be knowing you” to a pregnant girlfriend), and lastly, though perhaps not most importantly, given the spunk and charisma of mouth-watering pop like “Never Let You Go,” expanding the outer boundaries of rock and roll’s potential. And for evidence of this latter forte I turn to a perhaps unlikely source: track nine on Blue, “Camouflage.”

Without question, Third Eye Blind and Blue are similar records, a phenomenon perhaps if not epitomized then at least symbolized by Jenkins uttering the words “face(d) down the demons” on each, at the exact same tempo, in similar phases of the song and even on the same beats within the given bar, or measure. They’re highly similar in structure, too, with radio-ready singles flooding side a, gripping, deep and psychedelic dirges muddling the closing portions, and explorative or off-beat numbers kicking off side b.

So as with the debut, Blue offers a tracks eight and nine sector that probably doesn’t specialize in “approachability,” or, some would probably say, even “listenability.” Fitting with its album cover vista of outer space, then, we get expansive, and, let’s be honest, faux-prog in Blue’s innards, “The Red Summer Sun” off-tilt with an entirely regrettable sort of maniacal, wannabe punk falsetto by Jenkins, in a multitempoed epic somewhat like a crack-headed little brother of “Narcolepsy” [1]. On “Camouflage,” then, its partner in mid-album mischief, things only get weirder, with a gibberish, ascending sort of animal call vocal kicking things off [2] that once prompted vicious derogation on the part of one of my buddies, when another friend had the CD in on shuffle. Honest to God, the intro is so weird, a strangeness only bolstered by its proximity to the relentlessly un-self-conscious “The Red Summer Sun,” that I think until about a couple years ago I was literally scared to listen to it, always skipping to “Farther” for reasons that granted could have to do with my not wanting to foster any unceremonious thoughts of what was one of my favorite bands growing up and probably still is. Tenacious listens, though, do uncover something very gratifying in “Camouflage” that DOES amount to exploration, that does amount to experimentation, with its atypical employment of what exactly constitutes an alternative rock song’s texture and its techniques for catharsis. Below Jenkins’ back-woods vocal histrionics, meanwhile, runs another dizzyingly verbose riff from Cadogan, with guitar sound so clean it could be placed in an operating room. From there, things only remain furiously, almost defiantly fresh, with Cadogan’s guitar layout morphing effortlessly into the trippy echo chamber pattern, just when you thought you stood any chance of gauging these guys’ strategies on this part of the album. This is firmly, poignantly the work of a band that knew they were carrying the torch in capping off the ’90s, a perfect, psychedelic foil to grunge that never tried to mimic but only tried to compliment, and succeeded. The unexplainable effects only ensue from there, on the first “verse,” with Jenkins’ vocal still impossible to parse or understand and Cadogan’s axe tilting and swaying in and out of consciousness with hazy effects pedals and a mind-bending balancing mosaic. In its infrastructure, then, “Camouflage” defaults into a fairly regular tune, but in sound, is anything but. In fact there’s an almost ghetto [3] grittiness to the fervency with which Cadogan’s axe electrically muscles onto the mix in the chorus, hence also entailing the soft/loud pattern structure patented by grunge and ergo offering a healthy parallel thereto, hence ensuring the necessary pedagogical intake at hand. But the wild, uncontrollable vocals all throughout the song seem to go a certain ways toward ushering in the age of hip-hop, especially for what seems to be Jenkins’ complete refusal to rest in any way on the art or manifestation of melody, for the song’s efficacy. Still, subtly, “Camouflage” does wield a conventional and gratifying rock chord progression, underneath it all, and when Jenkins does allow his singing parts to align with the harmonies right on pitch, the spirit of Third Eye Blind is right back in flourishing force, full of distinct band parts that seemed to make love to each other in harmonious song, if only for four minutes at a time. Within the overall album of Blue, I’d probably rank “Camouflage” ultimately within the bottom half, and possibly even toward the very bottom, but much of this is just for the album’s elsewhere successes, and by and large there is no other track that like this one so defiantly shirks melody, hook and climax for pledging allegiance to texture and abrasion.

I don’t usually do this, but in this post I’m going to offer some “closing remarks.” I was born in 1983. This stuff is my freakin’ music. I was too young to really get into grunge, though today I certainly appreciate it: my first bands I really loved were probably Hootie & the Blowfish, The Cranberries and Blues Traveler (meanwhile thinking “Ants Marching” by Dave Matthews Band were actually a Blues Traveler song, for a while). When I started high school, the biggest songs on the planet, other than “Intergalactic” by the Beastie Boys, were “Inside-out” by Eve 6 and “Jumper” by Third Eye Blind, with “Semi-Charmed Life” and “How’s it Going to Be” having preceded it in album singles offerings. But this stuff gets maligned, man. It just does. And I fu**ing hate it. This band has never really been a critical favorite (whereas, tellingly, I did in 2017 witness an entire group of people who were probably born about when Blue came out singing “Semi-Charmed Life” in the middle of work, when it was playing on the radio… THAT’s the kind of band this is… mark it). And I know this is supposed to be fuel for me: my blog is called Dolby Disaster, I’m supposed to be this a**hole critic who feeds off of hate, who feeds off of spite and antipathy and who’s all the happier and more prideful to like stuff other people hate. But it kinds of hits a little too close to home in the case of this band because I think they died an early death. And not that it’s not an issue, but to say that Kevin Cadogan left the band on SOLE account of his withheld royalties is probably a little near-sighted. I mean, the guy left music COMPLETELY [4]. I actually, too, know nothing about his life outside of Third Eye Blind, one way or the other. And even before Blue was out, on Thanksgiving of what must have been 1999, I beheld a halftime of football performance by the band of “Never Let You Go,” only to absorb some SERIOUS rancor on the part of certain unnamed persons in the room with me: persons taking exception, apparently, to the band’s confidence, its proclivity toward simple riff and its poppy disposition (although, hardly surprisingly, they failed to really ARTICULATE what they didn’t like about the band’s performance, aside from what was probably the obvious sort of Caesar/Brutus phenomenon, if you will) [5]. I didn’t utter a sound. I had enough fun arguing about politics with my neo-Nazi uncle. But I’ve championed Blue from the start. And I’ve read journals of guys saying that “Our relationship with art changes over time.” Ok. Ok, dude. I’ll vibe with you this time. I sure hope you know what you’re talking about. I sure hope you weren’t too busy with trendy flashes in the pan like Jamiroquai and The Crystal Method, though. I sure hope you didn’t hold an arrogant faux-superiority to mainstream alternative rock, only to realize your error later, when it’s every bit part and parcel with what popular American music is built on, and, when it’s done right, has every bit the heart. Regardless, my relationship with Blue, and with this band’s self-titled debut which for the record I think just SLIGHTLY outmodes Blue, and not by much, hasn’t changed a LICK in the last 20 years. I’ve as spiritually subservient to and humble before it as I’ve ever been. If anything, like with Stone Temple Pilots’ No. 4, another orphaned progeny of the red-headed stepchild autumn of 1999, it’s only gotten more beautiful, more immersive, and that chord progression and verse-chorus flow of “Never Let You Go” only more cosmically precise, like a spherical ball rolling through your ear drums, deflecting love, amorousness, pain and mourning each and all like negligible detritus, and funneling them all through the great, triumphant, indestructible art form that is rock and roll.

.

[1] For not having been issued as a single, “Narcolepsy” tends to be a pretty pliable tune: I once witnessed a university food court employee rocking out on air guitar to it at work and in their live show they were known to throw an “I Will Follow” teaser right in the middle of its up-tempo part.

.

[2] To its credit, just now I think I did notice something pretty interesting about this terrible vocal, that the second emission seems to be just the first one played backwards, which is sort of foolish but which I sort of commend too if it’s on the part of a band making its production debut and wanting to have some “sophomoric” fun, literally, as in this instance it is.

.

[3] This brings me to another very interesting discussion point on Blue: the song “Slow Motion,” which exists on the album as a brief instrumental and on the best-of, as well, as a poisonous, noir horror show of lyrical ghetto life in San Francisco. The latter, extended, five-minute version is easily the raciest thing the band ever did, with graphic accounts of sadistic murder, explainable or unexplained, and the sort of hopelessness of urban decay so grim that it almost seems beautiful, or so the song’s lyrical narrator is forced to believe, out of almost animalistic necessity. Also, you’ll never believe me, but there’s ANOTHER version of the song out there too, and was on my original, 1999 pressing of the album CD, which was like a sort of brief, three-minute album track featuring only the chorus’ lyrics, and not the violent, expressionist verses. In a way, you might say, this was the most “listenable” of all the three, and now tragically I can’t seem to find it on YouTube, and certainly not on Spotify or main streaming, or I would have embedded it in this post. Another interesting tidbit is that on the original pressing, “Slow Motion” wasn’t the closeur but rather track 11, leaving things to build nicely and climactically to the sprawling, magnanimous “Darkness” on track 12, and “Darwin” for a pithy, sort of jazzily unassuming closeur. I vastly preferred this former sequencing, I have to say.

.

[4] This is of course apart from the entirely ignorable “Cadogan/Salazar” outfit, which apparently just played old Third Eye Blind songs and didn’t seem to dress them up in many if any compelling modulations.

.

[5] The Hives make beautiful light of this sort of master/slave dichotomy in “B is for Brutus”: “If you do it / Do it good / Brutus / Real good / Like a little man should”.

Leave a Reply