For a lot of young bands, the classified ad that assembled the troops is easy to conjecture. (“Influences: Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth, Pavement,” that sort of thing.) But what pitch could possibly have brought the five members of Southern California’s Blind Melon together? “We have: a raspy singer who can’t carry a tune and an obnoxiously condescending name. We need: two bland guitarists (one rock, one folk) and a rhythm section that can mess up Jane’s Addiction thrash and white-boy funk and is willing to sit out the acoustic numbers.”
Its inexplicable success (much of which can be attributed to the popular bee-girl “No Rain” video) aside, Blind Melon is a complete mess. The band switches derivative idioms at will, bringing an equal absence of originality, intelligence and skill to riffy Led Zeppelin thump (“Soak the Sin”), jam-band partydown syncopation (“Tones of Home,” “Time”), hippie-dude fake folk (“Change”), Allmanesque boogie (“Holyman”), Dead-like aimlessness (“No Rain”) and vintage folk-rock (“Deserted,” “Sleepyhouse”). Where other groups might inject their own sound into such an assortment of genres, Blind Melon roots around in search of an identity and comes up empty. The band’s songwriting is lazy, amelodic and shapeless; the trippy lyrics do their signifying without the inconvenience of substance. Rick Parashar’s co-production is hopeless. Worst of all, Shannon Hoon is an atrocious singer, and he’s the only distinctive element in a band that seems to have been concocted from a hand-me-down sense of the ’60s.
During the three years it took Blind Melon to record a followup, the Change EP appeared as a placeholder: two versions of the titular album track, a couple of dozy acoustic remakes and an idiotic rural version of the Velvet Underground’s “Candy Says.”
Co-producer Andy Wallace whipped Blind Melon into some sonic shape on Soup, lashing the band’s diversity to a cohesive center so the riff flareups and acoustic porch-swings — if not the jug-band arrangement of “Skinned” — can be understood as oases in the generic melodic rock zone. But while the quintet is able to escape its reliance on obvious influences, it still couldn’t come up with much worthwhile material. (This really seems like a case of attempting to milk a bull.) Regardless of the album’s carefully fashioned window dressing, the tunes run strictly on energy, as Hoon repeatedly squanders fragments of melody. At best, the lyrics are calculated to disturb. “Car Seat” fantasizes about being buried by one’s father; the narrator of “Walk” wakes up “in a pile of puke” and literalizes the expression “bang my head against this wall.” “Skinned” threatens to “make a lampshade of durable skin.” Suicide fantasies and self-loathing permeate the album, but only one idea carries the weight of real reflective intelligence: in “New Life,” Hoon wonders if looking into the eyes of his new baby will “bring new life into me.” Evidently not. On October 21, 1995, several months after the record’s release, Hoon was found dead from a cocaine overdose on the band’s tour bus in New Orleans. His bandmates assembled a third album from their storehouse of unreleased recordings and then called it quits.