Review Summary: Gone too soon.
Blind Melon were a near ubiquitous presence on early 90's MTV and radio with the song 'No Rain', which was a bouncy and happy-sounding ditty about bi-polar disorder. However, the song and accompanying video, universally known as the Bumblebee-girl video, were so upbeat and sunny that most people overlooked the dark subject matter of the song and its combination of acoustic guitar rhythm, instantly recognizable electric guitar hook and sing-along melody made it the perfect 90's pop-rock classic. However, while peers such as Hootie & The Blowfish seemed intent on churning out the same song over and over again in the hope of holding on to fleeting success and pop-cultural relevance, Blind Melon tired of the song and formula far quicker than their audience, even going so far as to perform the song live in a completely different "stripped away" avatar. It's obvious that the success of the song was seen by the band as cumbersome and hindered their artistic ambititions. Thus, if you are expecting their sophomore album to be a reprise of their first album and contain 'No Rain 2' you're in for a not completely unpleasant surprise.
The band's musical growth and maturity is immediately apparent. The album is not nearly as predictable, formulaic or accessible as the first album. The individual elements are all pretty much intact; intertwining guitar lines a-la the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin-influenced riffs and lead singer Shannon Hoon's distinctive clear tenor voice. However the band shows a willingness to experiment right from the get-go with the almost spoken word intro to 'Galaxie' by Hoon with a brass band backing him up that suddenly kicks into the guitar riff of the song. The band also sees fit to incorporate a kazoo into the jaunty folk-song 'Skinned' told from the perspective of serial-killer Ed Gein and its cheerful craziness, both lyrical and musical, is equal parts creepy and funny.
Songs about serial-killers aside, the band shows a great deal of emotional depth with the gentle acoustic song 'Vernie' dedicated to Hoon's grandmother and the hauntingly beautiful 'Mouthful of Cavities' which utilizes backing vocals from guest vocalist Jena Kraus in a completely unexpected way. Rather than merely harmonizing with Hoon or punctuating his deliveries, her melodies swirl around his in a way that would be almost playful if the song wasn't in a melancholic minor key. The band favours melancholic slow grooves a little bit too much over the middle of the album with songs such as ‘The Duke’, ‘St. Andrews Fall’ and ‘New Life’ all kind of blending together. However, they manage to keep things fresh when they turn up the volume and tempo as on the rockers such as '2x4' and 'Wilt'. The riffs in these songs never really move in predictable and boring patterns and the lop-sided grooves created by guitarists Roger Stevens and Christopher Thorn showcase their Led Zeppelin influences without being overly derivative.
The band's best qualities are all condensed into 'Toes Across the Floor’ which along with the afore-mentioned ‘Mouthful of Cavities’ is the highlight of the album. It combines winding, interlocking lead guitar lines and natural harmonics with a slow groovy bass-driven rhythm which builds in tempo and volume to the wordless chorus driven by a syncopated single-note bend guitar lick and wordless chorus that is incredibly infectious and catchy. The hallmark of the band has always been the interplay between all the musicians, none of them really pushing for the spotlight but creating a sound that is greater than the sum of its relatively simple parts. While the interplay between instruments and vocals occasionally teeters on the edge of chaos, the band shows a great deal of restraint and keeps the music loose and organic sounding.
Soup is a little difficult to get into at first, especially compared with the much more straightforward debut album of the band. Blind Melon has always been a bit of an acquired taste, especially with regards to Shannon Hoon’s voice which isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. However, the growth and musical maturity of the band shows that they have no intention of being pigeon-holed as one-hit wonders and this album is a fine artistic statement. It’s thus doubly unfortunate that Shannon Hoon died so soon after this album and prevented the band from releasing any new music for over a decade.
Toes Across the Floor
Mouthful of Cavities