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Articles: Recordings Melon Soup (1995)


 

Recordings Melon Soup

By Dave Sprague for Newsday
August 13, 1995

 Soup Review

 In order to sell 2 million copies of a debut album, a band has to be possessed with either true originality or a Zelig-like ability to appear all things to all people. With its uncanny knack for shape-shifting from hard-rock knuckle dragging to nouveau hippie torpor, Blind Melon took the latter route to the platinum mines. The band rendered itself so faceless in the process that its breakthrough success hinged on MTV' s fondness for the pre-pubescent "bee girl" featured in one of its videos.

The quintet doesn't tamper too much with its not-so-secret formula-  essentially, a cannabis-suffused variation of grunge-pop  -  on "Soup." But when the patchouli haze lifts (as it does more frequently on this sophomore outing), it's evident that Blind Melon's incongruence stems more from artistic over-reaching than slacker nonchalance.  If anything, "Soup" is more disjointed than the band's debut. Florid summer-of-love psychedelia melts into second-line funk redolent of the streets of New Orleans (where the album was recorded) before giving way to muscle-car boogie.

Credit is due guitarists Rogers Stevens and Christopher Thorn for unifying the varied styles by swathing songs like "Mouthful of Cavities" and "2 x 4" in dark, minor-chord melodies that are offset by fillips of flute, harmonica, even a full-blown brass band.

Frontman Shannon Hoon's petulant vocals can still cause shivers, like nails across a blackboard  -  or worse, like Yes yowler Jon Anderson. For an Axl Rose protege, Hoon displays an admirable amount of glottal restraint, drawing on his lower register to good effect on the brawny blues-highway ode "Galaxy," one of the few songs on "Soup" to retain the sunny hues that marked the band's bow.

As a lyricist, the peripatetic Hoon has cultivated the sort of arrogrant rock-guy worldview that requires him to offer opinions on, well, just about everything. And while it's laughable to hear him warble his way through "Skinned"  -  the latest in a seemingly endless string of shock-pop ditties about serial killer Ed Gein (who also provided the inspiration for "Psycho")  -  Hoon elsewhere calls upon surprising degrees of sensitivity and sophistication when dealing with some decidedly difficult issues.  On the disorienting "Car Seat (God's Presents)," for instance, the singer looks at the Susan Smith incident from the perspective of one of the drowning children; for the adrenalized "Saint Andrew's Fall," he rustles dizzily through a jumble of images surrounding a suicide leap.

Ultimately, "Soup" doesn't do much to cut through the fuzziness surrounding Blind Melon's identity, but there is enough artistic depth in its grooves to indicate that's no accident.

 

 

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