Friday, July 10, 2009

July 10: Blind Melon, "Blind Melon"

Artist: Blind Melon
Album: Blind Melon
Year: 1992
Label: Capitol

Many of the truly great bands to emerge out of the musical explosion of the early 1990's have sadly been largely forgotten over time. The shadow of bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Dr. Dre have eclipsed them, though in many cases, those left behind created superior music. Ignoring the trends of the time, and favoring a pure, honest sound without the studio polish that so many of their peers favored, Blind Melon remain largely on the fringe of great bands of the decade. Yet, the truth of the matter is, few bands of the time were able to create equally as brilliant music, and no other band had as amazing a frontman as Shannon Hoon. Influenced by Jimi Hendrix and Jane's Addiction as much as they were by Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead, there have been few bands who have so perfectly blended the sounds of classic with a laid back, almost "campy" feel. Lasting only a few short years due to the drug abuse and untimely death of Hoon, it is in the bands self-titled 1992 debut where one can find one of the true musical gems of the decade, and similarly, one of the finest albums ever recorded.

Due to their love for the "classic" jam bands, in many ways, Blind Melon could have fit in 1972 as easily as it did in 1992. Favoring little production and enjoying extended solos and "jams" that were beyond uncharacteristic of the time, Blind Melon is truly like nothing else that was being released at the time. Perhaps the biggest thing that set Blind Melon apart from their peers is the fact that, when it comes down to it, the band made far more brighter, if not fun, music than the other bands of the time. While the lyrics often play in great juxtaposition to the music, the sound on Blind Melon lacks the overall morose and melancholy mood of a majority of the other records of the time. Though a majority of critics panned the album, and Hoon, for some strange reason, provoked the ire of many of these critics, the album itself climbed into the top ten and would eventually sell more than four million copies. All of this was done under the watch of super-producer, Rick Parashar. Parashar, who produced most of the biggest hits of the fist half of the decade (Pearl Jam's Ten, Alice In Chains' Sap, Dinosaur Jr's Whatever Cool With Me) used his usual formula, and let the band play their music, leaving it devoid of the tricks and distortions that are found on so many other albums of the time. Truth be told, Blind Melon unknowingly created one of the most iconic images of the entire decade when they unleashed the infamous "Bee Girl" upon the world in the video for their chart topping single, "No Rain." The song itself dominated the airwaves, as well as EmpTV for nearly a year, "No Rain" remains both a much beloved song, as well as a great introduction into the sound that makes Blind Melon such a fantastic band.

Beyond the hype, and beyond the Bee Girl, at the end of the day, Blind Melon at its core is an exceptionally talented band. The dual guitars of Rogers Stevens and Chris Thorn is at the center of this amazing sound, and their interplay is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the album. Showing their entire range, from the melodic, almost folky sounds of "Change" to the outright rocking on "Time," they shine on each and every song. What also sets them apart from their peers are their breathtaking solos. In a time when meandering, "noodling" solos had been long forgotten in favor of angry, abrupt, and shorter guitar solos, it was yet another aspect that set Blind Melon apart from their peers. While there are countless examples of this throughout all of Blind Melon, one need look no further than the solo found on "No Rain" to hear just what made the band so much fun to experience. Drummer Glen Graham is similarly of a different sound and style than the other drummers of the time. Bringing a far more jazzy and mellow approach to his sound, the drums feature a more "bouncy" mood, and this helps to keep the overall mood light, even when Hoon's lyrics are darker than anything else of the era. To experience just how fantastic a drummer there lives in Graham, check out the multi-tempoed rocker, "Deserted." Rounding out the musicians is bassist Brad Smith. Also lending backing vocals throughout the record, Smith's bass stays a bit buried in the mix, yet when he is pushed to the forefront, he proves to be equally as skilled as the rest of the band. The manner in which Blind Melon fuses Southern style rock with elements of "jam bands" as well as the heavier sounds of groups like Led Zeppelin is what makes them one of the finest and most unique bands to ever record.

Though many are unaware, their first exposure to Shannon Hoon came well over a year before the release of Blind Melon, when he provided backing vocals on the Guns N' Roses hits, "Don't Cry" and "Estranged." Though it plays in stark contrast to his image, Hoon was actually a standout in both football and wrestling while in high school in Indiana. Much like Axl Rose, Hoon moved to Los Angeles from Indiana in search of music fame, and it was in L.A. that he met Rose himself, as well as the musicians who would become his bandmates. Few will argue that Shannon Hoon possesses one of the most unique and amazing voices in the entire history of music. Hoon's enchanting, almost hypnotizing voice comes across as strong and pure as the music, and it is in this honest sound where Blind Melon is once again separated from their peers. Shannon Hoon truly has the voice of an angel, and his vocal range shows few limitations, as he wails and cries his amazingly insightful lyrics. Throughout Blind Melon, one will find some of the most simple, yet profound lyrics ever penned. From the homesick sounds of "Tones Of Home" to "Paper Scratcher," which was inspired by an interaction with some homeless men, Hoon truly crafts musical gems with his words. Easily the most enduring and remarkable songs on the album are found in the sadly prophetic "Change." The words within "Change" are perhaps the finest, most introspective ever written on the subject, and sadly, Hoon's grave features the following lines: "I know we can't all stay here forever, so I want to write my words on the face of today...and I'll paint it..." Even after countless listenings, the song itself is nothing short of stunning, and it is very much due to the breathtaking words and singing that Hoon presents. Sadly gone far too soon, Shannon Hoon left behind an amazing legacy on Blind Melon, as he sings brilliantly throughout, as he stakes his claim as one of the finest songwriters of his generation.

In an era that would quickly become filled with imitators of a hit sound, Blind Melon remains a breath of fresh air from a time when music was being over produced and glossed over with an angry, dark mood. The musicians of Blind Melon are some of the most talented of their generation, refusing to compromise the sound they love in favor of what was popular at the time. Led by the dual guitars of Stevens and Thorn, the band presents a wonderful mixture of Southern rock with a modern twist, as well as a much edgier feel than their influences. Though often featuring lyrics of a somber, if not morose nature, the music and mood of the album are almost always far more upbeat than anything else being done musically at the time, and the "jamming" found throughout also placed the band apart from their peers. Whether it is the stunning vocal work of Shannon Hoon or the phenomenal playing of the rest of the band, Blind Melon brought a sound and style that were not only refreshingly unique, but it was also damn fun to experience time and time again. Though many attempt to write of Blind Melon as a flash in the pan or a one-hit wonder, the truth of the matter is that it is, by far, one of the most pure rock records of the decade, and remains one of the finest, most underrated musical achievements of the era.

Standout tracks: "Tones Of Home," "Change," and "No Rain."

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