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Blind Melon

+ {Unified Theory}

Whether American post-grunge outfit BLIND MELON would’ve been the force they were –post-“Soup” – after frontman Shannon Hoon died on October 21, 1995 of a cocaine-enduced overdose, speculation and debate has been rife for their loyal alt-rock fans. Judging by the dramatic drop (multi-platinum to gold) from sales of albums one and two, then probably not; and usually for a band at their peak to lose such a key member, posthumous albums – in this case NICO {*5} – initially sell by the bucketload. It reached only No.161 when released the November ‘96.
Formed in Newport Beach, Los Angeles, California, in March 1990, West Point, Mississippi-born Brad Smith (bass, flute) and Roger Stevens (lead guitar) were only happy to take in fellow floaters/journeymen Shannon Hoon (from Lafayette, Indiana), rhythm guitarist/mandolinist Christopher Thorn (a native of Dover, Pennsylvania) and, last but not least, drummer/percussionist Glen Graham (from Columbus, Mississippi).
The term “Blind Melon Chitlin” was swiped from comic rockers CHEECH & CHONG, whom Smith’s father also associated with neighbourhood, pot-smoking hippies. After recording a widely-circulated demo entitled “The Goodfoot Workshop”, BLIND MELON were eventually picked up for a six-figure sum by Tim Devine, A&R man at Capitol Records. While recordings of an EP (The Slippin’ Time Sessions) failed to materialise, Shannon would call upon his sister’s high school acquaintance Axl Rose for some moral support. In the event, the rising singer supplied backing vocals on GUNS N’ ROSES’ `Use Your Illusion I’ and `Use Your Illusion II’ sets (tracks: `Don’t Cry’, `November Rain’ et al).
BLIND MELON’s sound lying somewhere between his aforementioned mentors, JANE’S ADDICTION and The GRATEFUL DEAD, producer Rick Parashar (responsible for PEARL JAM’s `Ten’) set them free from their long stay at a studio in Durham, North Carolina. Armed with a couple of promos from their forthcoming debut, the subterranean homesick blues of `Tones Of Home’ and slacker signature tune `No Rain’ were initially dismissed as derivative among the West Coast crowd. When part of their eponymous BLIND MELON {*8} set, released to an unwhelming response in September 1992, both retro-styled tracks slowly connected into the heart of the mainstream modern-rock MTV airwaves. As the album picked up apace in its snail-like, year-long climb to No.3 (due in no small measure to `No Rain’ storming the Top 20), the quintet were also making ground in the UK, where both the belatedly-issued single and album reached Nos.17 & 53 respectively. As jangly and funky as any Axl or Vedder, Shannon’s vocals were sailingly effective on `Soak The Sin’, `Paper Scratcher’ and the softer “Fire And Rain”-esque `Change’ (their follow-up UK Top 40 hit in summer ’94!).
As the world mourned the death of Kurt Cobain that April, Hoon’s approach was to bury his head in the sand, or, indeed, lines of coke. Support slots on world tours with NEIL YOUNG, LENNY KRAVITZ and The ROLLING STONES had won BLIND MELON respect (as with ‘94’s Woodstock appearance), but with Hoon’s drink/drug-related escapades and constant visits to rehab, it was a case of two steps forward, one step back.
That difficult sophomore-set-syndrome was never more effectual than on their long-awaited SOUP (1995) {*6} album. Produced by Andy Wallace from the band’s stint in New Orleans, it barely scratched the surface of the Top 30, while in Old Blighty (bolstered by modest hit, `Galaxie’), it did very little to stir the pot of the Top 50. Darker and dense due to Hoon’s re-examining of his own psyche and mortality, the set definitely needed some meat in its bones (a la `No Rain’), and too often it lacked something other than the druggy `2 x 4’, the exotic `Car Seat (God’s Presents)’ and the countri-fied `Skinned’ to pull it from out the mire.
Fast-forward two months (newbie father to daughter Nico Blue), Shannon Hoon was found dead by sound engineer Lyle Eaves on the morning after an all-night drunk and drugs binge; Hoon had only just turned 28. His girlfriend Lisa Crouse, his band mates (who were planning a promotional tour) and even a counselor couldn’t prevent him relapsing while he was on the road. The aforesaid “Nico” album, featured BLIND MELON outtakes from as far back as 1991, whilst also unveiling a “ripped away” version of `No Rain’ and covers of JOHN LENNON’s `John Sinclair’ and HOYT AXTON’s `The Pusher’.
Three years on from the sad and tragic death of Hoon, Thorn and Smith reconvened in the outfit Luma; frontman/guitarist Chris Shinn (ex-Celia Green) and veteran/ex-PEARL JAM drummer Dave Krusen were also part of the set-up on an internet-only EP in ‘99. The quartet became UNIFIED THEORY (an unsolved problem Albert Einstein worked on before his death), releasing the eponymous UNIFIED THEORY {*7} to sound Kerrang! reviews in August 2000. Shinn’s high-pitched vocals went some way to filling the void left by his predecessor, but even if the excellence and creativity behind `Cessna’, `Fin’, `California’ and the haunting `Not Dead’, they couldn’t shake off the ghost of Shannon, or indeed, the grunge tag.
After their split, Brad Smith (as Abandon Jalopy) released a solo set, `Mercy’; Krusen formed Novatone; Shinn later fronted LIVE. A further download-only album, CINEMATIC (2007) {*6} surfaced, but with no promotional backing it was doomed.
BLIND MELON re-formed once again with remaining original members and a new frontman: dead ringer for Hoon, Travis Warren. FOR MY FRIENDS (2008) {*6} was a worthy and brave attempt at turning back the clock some 15 years or so. Short of a `No Rain’ injection of light, an umbrella or waterproofs were in order to avoid the unneccesary flak from the media heavens. As comebacks go, their trippy and freewheeling neo-psychedelic excursions (`With The Right Set Of Eyes’, `Down On The Pharmacy’, `Father Time’ and the opening title track) were honest enough to make it all worthwhile – however brief.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Sep2016

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