Real fans will be more than happy to tell you about how that song was really an anomaly. About how the band’s sophomore album Soup is a twisted, idiosyncratic classic that’s just now getting its due. And—if you’re still listening—they might even point out that “No Rain” is actually a bleak-ass song about mind-numbing depression wrapped in an ironically upbeat package.
Those are the very same people who are raising the biggest eyebrow at this reunion. Over a decade after the demise of frontman Shannon Hoon, the four remaining members of Blind Melon have returned with a new album and a new singer, one who grew up worshipping the very band he now fronts.
Even the best replacement for Hoon can be no equal. His vocals were rangy and expressive—hell, the man held his own with Axl Rose—alternately dissonant and beautiful, and from note one, instantly recognizable.
Guitarist Christopher Thorn initially shared fans’ skepticism. “We admit, on paper, this seems like a terrible idea,” he says. “We laugh about it all the time…. We discussed everything at great length and had huge debates about coming back. I get a little mad when people think we just did this on a whim.”
After the astronomical success of “No Rain,” the band went out and crafted something darkly brilliant and, apparently, unpalatable to those expecting another commercial smash from the dudes in the big green field. The label was upset and the album was widely panned. Rolling Stone tore it apart, asserting, “The blissful vibe of hippie positivity that colored ‘No Rain’ is replaced here by disarray.”
But that disarray is what makes Soup so mesmerizing—it is a document of a man’s undoing. One man who is “talking to himself again,” looking over the edges of buildings and struggling to get up in the morning. The weird horns and quirky think-piece songs would be right at home in today’s indie landscape.
When Thorn talks about Soup, you can tell that the response still smarts. “We just thought we had made this huge step forward,” he says. “It felt like all the reviewers wanted us to release the same damn song. And I realize that record was a huge middle finger to all those people, but they came down hard on us.”
The album’s sixth track, “Walk,” is a standout—another song about depression and ennui, about “singing the same songs every day…when things behind the smile ain’t OK.” It offers some of Hoon’s most intensely understated vocals. At the conclusion, an exhausted Hoon resolves to “try, try again.”
Two months after the album’s release, Hoon died from a drug overdose. The band went on to release a collection of rareties and b-sides called Nico, named after Hoon’s young daughter. (The unexpected pregnancy was the subject of Soup’s most hopeful moment: “New Life,” a song Hoon wrote about cleaning up his act, and one the band will not play on this tour—some things are just too close.)
The band defends this reunion by asserting that new frontman Travis Warren came to them, hoping to record at Thorn and bassist Brad Smith’s studio. There was no open audition, no Rock Star: Blind Melon, no Craigslist post, just a young guy who happened to sound a whole lot like Hoon.
The situation raises inevitable questions: What makes a band? What makes this Blind Melon?
“If your name is Lee and god forbid you lose a limb, you’re still gonna go by Lee, right?” Thorn responds. “You’re not gonna change your name. Well, we lost a giant limb. Shannon is always missed. And Travis says it every night onstage: ‘I wish he was here and that I was in the audience watching, but that’s not gonna happen. So I’m here to help the band continue.’ ”
So those who love Blind Melon have quite the conundrum: Do you close your eyes and pretend? View it as the most excellent of tribute bands? Listen to the new songs and—gasp!— judge this new incarnation on its own merit?
“The response has been incredible,” Thorn says. “Every night some guy comes up and says, ‘I wasn’t sure about this. Big Shannon Fan. Big fan of the band. But man, you guys blew me away.’ The thing is, I would probably feel the same way about my favorite band…. So if you’re skeptical, come out and see the show. If you don’t like it, I’ll give you your money back, personally. That’s how confident I am.”
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