What’s the first thing that pops up when you think “Blind Melon?” It’s probably Shannon Hoon’s tragic demise or the image of a dancing girl in a bee costume.
What’s the first thing that pops up when you think “Blind Melon?” It’s probably frontman Shannon Hoon’s tragic demise or the image of a dancing girl in a bee costume from their iconic “No Rain” video; two things that have nothing to do with the limited, but fantastic music they produced. For whatever reason, critics also seem to overlook their catalog, perhaps due to the competition in Seattle at the time or possibly because Blind Melon weren’t labeled easily. In retrospect, however, their music stands as some of the most timeless of the era, just pure, no-frills rock that balanced mellow psych with an alt-rock edge.
The world took its time getting to know Blind Melon. Blind Melon’s self-titled debut would be released in 1992, though it wouldn’t become a hit until the summer of ‘93. That, of course, happened on the tail of the bee-girl video, which introduced Blind Melon as a bunch of carefree hippies. With verses about boredom and lack of connection, “No Rain” is not as bright as it sounds; it’s a dichotomy that made the rest of Blind Melon so compelling, and also prophetic.
The writing was always on the wall for Hoon, who clearly struggled for peace even before becoming a star. On the acoustic country folk intro (which was mostly cut from radio) of “I Wonder,” Hoon sounds worn out and in pain. “I know how hard I try,” he pleads before a huge open-string hammer-on/pull-off riff drops into a clean-tone groove. By the time he gets to the end, he asks, “Why am I even here?” revealing a struggle he’s trying to overcome. During “Holyman,” a jammy and soulful Skynyrd like ballad, Hoon turns the mirror to those who claim to be holier than thou. “Holyman, ya don’t understand/ The cuts on me they run much deeper,” he sings, tackling a frequently reoccurring theme of faith.
As engrained as Hoon’s troubles must have been, he was also fighting them. During the dazed “Sleepyhouse,” named for the North Carolina house where the band gelled, Hoon acknowledges that he’s made mistakes and wants to fix them, but he can’t. Nowhere is this more clear or heartbreaking than the record’s beautiful acoustic centerpiece, “Change.” As a mandolin weeps behind him, Hoon sings, “as I sit here in this misery/ I don’t think I’ll ever see the sun from here.” Despite verses like that, other lines make it seem like he has the will to battle through. Of course, now we know now that he didn’t, and what should’ve been an anthem for positivity is, in retrospect, something very different.
Hoon is clearly the face of the band and his high, scratchy vocals are irreplaceable (they tried postmortem), but the underrated engine is undoubtedly the guitar tandem of Christopher Thorn and Rogers Stevens. “Soak the Sin” is full of chunky licks and psychedelic breaks that recall the funky side of Fishbone, while “Tones of Home” was made unmistakably catchy by its backbone of funk-rock and Zeppelin riffage. The only thing that overshadowed their tightness was range, as Thorn and Stevens could go from sticky Black Crowes early-morning folk rock (“Drive”) to a flamenco solo like the one in “Dear Ol’ Dad.” Still, they went where Hoon went, and the stormy wah-filled release of “Paper Scratcher” could have only found a home between the angst of his tooth-gritting verses and sunflower choruses.
For a band that did nothing in the way of production and showcased little more than guitar, bass and vocals, it’s a testament to them that no one today sounds like them. Sure, My Morning Jacket can balance the hippie/indie thing and others can play straightforward rock, but Blind Melon combined virtuosity with a soul. Blind Melon should have been the beginning, not almost the end, but Hoon’s 1995 overdose derailed any hope of that. They’d release one more full-length (Soup), as well as the posthumous Nico, but Blind Melon captured the sound of a band that felt like they had it all in front of them. That’s what we should remember.