Thursday, October 21, 2010

October 21: Blind Melon, "Change"

Artist: Blind Melon
Song: "Change"
Album: Blind Melon
Year: 1992

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Looking back on the entire history of recorded music, one can easily make the case that the most powerful and memorable music occurs when an artist, regardless of genre, puts themselves entirely into their music and holds nothing back.  When a performer uses their music as an outlet for whatever emotions they are dealing with, there is a certain level of honesty that comes across in the music, and the more honest the artist is, the more powerful their music becomes.  At its most powerful, one of the most amazing things can occur, as there are countless examples of when an artist is so introspective and honest with themselves that their songs become eerily prophetic.  Though this is occasionally a good prophecy, one can often see the long-standing pain and tragedy within such honesty, and this has rarely been as clear as one finds within the writing of the late Shannon Hoon.  As the frontman for the early 1990's neo-hippie band Blind Melon, Hoon quickly proved to be one of his generations' most distinctive voices, as well as one of its most prolific writers.  Turning the pen on himself and offering his deepest and most troubling thoughts to the world, there is a unique sense of agony and innocence within both Hoon's singing and writing, and it is his presence that makes the music of Blind Melon so extraordinary.  Though the band is certainly best known for their surprise hit, "No Rain," there is little question that Hoon was at his finest and most heartbreaking on Blind Melon's stunning 1992 lament, "Change."

While many of the artists of the time were using studio tricks and overdubs to make their sound, Blind Melon took the completely opposite approach, as their songs are stripped down and straightforward, pushing their raw talent to the forefront of every song.  It is on "Change" that one can hear Blind Melon's unique sonic approach, as they purposefully split the sound of their two guitarists, letting each player occupy a "side" of the music.  If one listens closely, the guitar of Rogers Stevens is mostly on the right side (or ear) of the song, while the bands' other guitar player, Christopher Thorn is panned to the left.  This split gives the band and song a very distinctive sound, and the dual-guitars comes into larger play when the song mixes an electric solo over the acoustic rhythm.  The addition of a mandolin on the track gives the song a sound like no other, and the instrument has rarely been used as perfectly as it is here.  Bassist Brad Smith gives "Change" much of its movement, helping it to swing slowly back and forth, before climbing up the frets to lead into the bridge and solo sections.  The drumming from Glenn Graham is amazing, as he is able to deploy a perfect balance between the light touch that the song requires, and a strong back-beat to keep the song moving.  With each of the four members perfectly executing their part, they form a single sound that enables "Change" to sound quite modern whilst simultaneously having a "classic" feel.

However, as superbly as each of the musicians play, there is simply no overshadowing the performance that is given here by Shannon Hoon.  Best known for his ability to work the upper registers of the vocal spectrum, on "Change," he uses his voice to its fullest, working across the scale in brilliant fashion.  Whether he is singing low and soft or releasing his soaring displays on the higher notes, there is a presence and power behind Hoon's voice that sets him far apart and above nearly all of his peers.  It is this strength and authenticity in his voice that made Blind Melon so unique, as one can instantly hear the honesty and pain in his singing.  There are moments on "Change" where it is clear that Hoon was using the studio space as a place for catharsis, as his singing pushes beyond "just" performance, and he seems to be signing from some unknown, dark, inner place.  If the sound in his voice isn't enough, "Change" boasts Hoon's finest lyrical moment, and few artists in history have ever dared to be this up front and soul bearing.  Speaking directly to his deep-rooted depression and problems of drug abuse, the words he brings here can be applied to nearly any situation in life where one begins questioning their place.  Hoon outdoes himself, bringing a chilling truth when he sings, "...and when your deepest thoughts are broken,  keep on dreaming, boy, 'cause when you stop dreamin' it's time to die..."  Every line is clearly from the heart, and Hoon achieves the rare moment of unintentional prophecy when he delivers the lines, "...but I know we can't all stay here forever,  so I want to write my words on the face of today..."  Cutting himself no slack, Shannon Hoon exposes his darkest corners and deepest feelings, and it is this honesty that makes "Change" such a phenomenal musical experience.

Nearly twenty years after it was first released, Blind Melon's 1992 debut still stands as one of the most pure and powerful records ever released.  Making no apologies, the band simply put down their sound on record and let listeners be the judge.  This straightforward and largely untouched approach worked wonderfully, as the sense of simple honesty within their music made it one of the most successful albums of the decade, as well as kick-starting the neo-hippie movement that would last for a majority of the 1990's.  With the quartet of musicians bringing a strong, yet measured musical approach, the music of Blind Melon brings the attitude of rock, yet is able to be a bit lighter without sacrificing any of the power or attitude.  It is this combination of sounds that sets the band so far apart from their peers, as well as much of the reason the album has held up over the decades.  However, the most potent aspect of Blind Melon is the singing and writing of the late Shannon Hoon.  Without question one of the most powerful voices of his generation, Hoon used the songs of Blind Melon to expose and expel his own personal demons, and in the process, he gave rays of hope to people suffering with similar problems.  On "Change," Hoon holds nothing back, and the resulting recording stands as one of the most heartbreaking moments in all of music history.  Finding an ideal balance between the joy of moving on and the reality of being trapped within ones' problems, the true sense of tragedy is perhaps what makes Blind Melon's 1992 song, "Change," the phenomenal, unparalleled musical moment that it remains to this day.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It drives me crazy when Blind Melon is lumped into the "one-hit wonder" label. They were sorely underrated, and you're right, "Change" is an amazingly beautiful song that stands the test of time. There are clips on youtube of the daughter he never got to meet singing this song as a teenager with what is left of Blind Melon at concerts. Pretty powerful given the context of the song, and what happened to her dad.