Following the success of groundbreaking bands like Nirvana, the early mid-nineties saw an alternative rock scene emerge with Stone Temple Pilots, Jane’s Addiction and so on. This era also featured many memorable one-hit wonders: “Song 2” by Blur (the “Woo” song), “Sex and Candy” by Marcy Playground. One such wonder — Blind Melon — made its mark with a distinctly un-alternative song, “No Rain,” which helped their self-titled album go multi-platinum.
When the band went on tour in support of their second album, lead singer Shannon Hoon, who had been suffering from drug problems, was found dead on their tour bus, apparently due to overdose. Blind Melon was unable to find a replacement singer, and eventually members went in different musical directions.
Their new release, “For My Friends,” is a return from a 10-year-plus hiatus and introduces new lead singer Travis Warren. Despite the success of the 1992 “No Rain,” the song’s laid back, even soulful, vibe is by no means representative of the band’s general sound. True to form, Blind Melon returns with a brand of stripped, rootsy, alternative rock influenced by both classic and Southern subgenres.
From the album’s opening track “For My Friends,” Warren’s voice bears a distinct resemblance to that of his predecessor: It is similarly high-pitched, raspy and reminiscent of Axl Rose, who was a close friend of the band during their early career. Evidently, the other band members hoped to recreate Hoon’s voice instead of taking the band’s sound in another direction. Although the comparison may be unfair, Warren’s voice is simply not the same as Hoon’s. He does not have the ability to revert to a smoother, more melodic sound when called to; instead, his continuous crooning eventually gets old.
During the band’s typically stripped-down rock songs, Warren’s voice fits nicely with their relaxed, Southern feel. But the album lacks variety, with a repetitive style that suffers from simple song structures and too many choruses. On most of the songs’ outros, the band feigns originality by adding some neat guitar riffs or drum fills over Warren’s mundane chorus, but to no avail. “For My Friends” lacks the funky edge of previous albums, instead lapsing into generic pop-rock.
“Sometimes,” with its bouncy tune, offers a brief respite from the often insipid rock. Background synthesizer notes and a quasi-swung beat give the album some needed energy. During half-time parts, a dreamy atmosphere is conjured and contrasts ironically with the song’s depressing lyrics, which include: “Sometimes nothing’s better than something / And sometimes you’re better off lonely.”
Once again, a calm, folksy song proves to be the band’s strongest — the final track “Cheetum Street” is very reminiscent of “No Rain.” The song’s bluesy, soulful feel is a reference to Blind Melon’s mostly Southern roots: Guitarist Roger Stevens, bassist Brad Smith and drummer Glenn Graham all hail from Mississippi. Warren’s raspy voice is pleasantly counterbalanced by female vocals, successfully creating a sense of both serenity and sad nostalgia, with words: “Ohhh it could have turned out so different / I guess you’re stuck with what was given to you.”
Warren’s inclusion also distinctly alters the songwriting — Hoon was Blind Melon’s primary lyricist. The latest album’s lyrics are mostly morose, and Warren’s writing often lacks subtlety. This is primarily evident on “Down on the Pharmacy,” which makes reference to Hoon’s destructive drug habit with little tact: “You’ve been strung out for awhile / I know that you know that we know you know … / The less you keep trying, the sooner you’re dying … / The cleaner that you get, the sweeter that life is / The sooner that you know, the sooner the shit flows.”
“For My Friends” has much of what made Blind Melon’s self-titled debut garner so much attention, despite the occasional changes from fierce funk to relaxed pop. But, sadly, Hoon is no longer a part of the band, and though Warren has humbly tried to fill Hoon’s shoes, the new Blind Melon needs to find their own sound.