Anybody remember Blind Melon? Don't pretend that you don't. The L.A.-based hybrid grunge/folk/jam/whatever band made its mark in the early 90s with that monster hit "No Rain," a song steeped in sentimentality of the self-aggrandizing Gen-X variety (you know--that "we're all crazy and alone, but we're in it together, blah blah blah" kind). I know that every one of you liars has hummed that stupid song to yourself on the way to the office or the gym or wherever it is that you go. Last time I checked, the Edge still had it on near-constant rotation, so stop pretending. You love that song. It's okay. I still catch myself humming Collective Soul occasionally, so there's no judgment here.
The thing is that hit single sorely misrepresented a band that wrote eclectic, genre-defying rock that was noticeably out of step with its faddish grunge counterparts. It was also noticeably better. That said, "No Rain" was an uninspired, middle-of-the-road choice to introduce the band to the world, but it's the song that they're remembered by, so whatever.
After troubled lead singer Shannon Hoon died of a cocaine overdose in 1995, the band dissolved into obscurity, leaving only two albums and a collection of b-sides in their wake. Over the years, they've retained a cult following on the strength of live releases, re-issues and licensing ("No Rain" was again brought to the forefront of the national consciousness when it was featured prominently in the marketing of Alexander Payne's 2004 Oscar-winning film Sideways).
Now, for better or worse, the band has re-united (sans Hoon, of course) and released a new album entitled For My Friends. Unsurprisingly, new vocalist Travis Warren doesn't come close to filling Hoon's shoes, but it would've been forgivable had Warren written lyrics that weren't completely stomach-churning in their infantile banality. A sample from first single "Wishing Well": "When you fall back down/ and you lost your crown/ get back up, walk around / turn that frown upside down." Seriously?
Dude, hire a ghost writer. Call Bernie Taupin, please. Or Diane Warren. Hell, call the Swede who wrote Britney's songs, I'm sure he's looking for work. Anybody. Sheesh.
Fortunately, the rest of the original band remains in tact, and the music is largely faithful to the existing Blind Melon aesthetic. The question is: is this new incarnation going to draw outsiders who weren't Melon fans to begin with?
The answer is a resounding "no," but the band already has such a rabid cult following that winning new fans probably isn't too high on the priority list.
Furthermore, regardless of what nay-saying has taken place within the confines of this column thus far, it's undeniable that this is the must-see oddity of the year.
Lucky for us, all that curiosity can be satisfied this Sunday night, when the band plays the Otherside at 69th and Lewis. In all seriousness, I recommend that you attend whether you're a fan of Nu-Melon or not, because local act Cody Clinton and the Bishops are opening, and they play damn good rock 'n' roll.
Speaks His Mind
"I hope I don't f**k this interview up like I did the last one," Clinton lamented last week, over lunch. The blunt honesty of that statement permeated nearly two hours of Clinton candidly discussing everything from his past troubles with drug addiction, to his decision to not apply to this year's DFest ("It's going to be a disaster, I promise"), a decision that's all the more surprising when one considers that Clinton and his band played one of their first big shows at last year's festival.
You may not know him yet, but the obscure, outspoken local musician is a mere month away from self-releasing his debut album, at which time listeners will be able to hear what, for the 26 year-old Clinton, is the culmination of several years worth of intense growth.
Since the late 90s, he's played with various bands to varying degrees of success, but it wasn't until he cleaned up his personal life that he was able to successfully follow through with a project. "I had a big problem with drugs and alcohol," Clinton said. "Like a huge, debilitating addiction-alcoholism thing." Earlier in the decade, Clinton had a near-brush with success when his band Pilot Project, a hard rock outfit heavily influenced by Stone Temple Pilots and Tool, caught the attention of Warner Bros. during a Caroline's Spine label showcase.
"That was a short-lived, high-flying experience," he said. "We played our little demo for them, and they showed interest. They wanted us to get pictures taken and to re-record vocals, they were going to fly us out to their offices and we were going to negotiate-I mean it was all there."
So what happened?
"Feuding, powdered substances and alcohol," Clinton said. "We never did get photos, we never recorded vocals again... It just fell apart as soon as the record label thing came. We self-destructed immediately, which is good. Because if we hadn't then, I could be dead. If I'd had that kind of money."
Clinton refers to his troubled years with the reluctance of someone who long ago put the past behind him and he isn't particularly eager to dwell on it. And there's really no need to, because, for Clinton, it's all about the music now. Over a year ago, he and his band began the long process of recording what would eventually be their debut The Tragic Truth, a gritty collection of songs that blur the lines between country, folk, rock and pop. Obvious influences range from Wilco (AM-era) and Bright Eyes to Bob Dylan and The Band. Lyrically, Clinton is brutally honest, sarcastic and profane. The song "Supermodels and Methadone" manages to indict war, greed, consumer culture and President Bush, all while staying rooted in the trailer-trash gothic imagery of his storytelling. In "Pontius Pilate Blues", Clinton goes for the jugular of religious fundamentalism.
Clinton's methods are somewhat didactic, to be sure, and his voice sometimes wavers, deflating the conviction of delivery demanded by the audacious lyrics. Certain songs feel somewhat contrived, the main culprit being "Dark Red Rose", a slower song that opens with a paltry guitar line and underwhelming vocal melody. The entire song walks the emotional line between simple and cliché, but it eventually finds redemption with an inspired ending. The most musically aggressive and lyrically amusing song on the album is "Fake ID." "The song is literally a joke," Clinton said. "But it's based on a true story."
The story goes that Clinton met a girl in a bar who claimed to be 22 before asking for him to take her home. Clinton agreed, and, upon arriving at her house, the seductress revealed that she was 16. "I wrote a funny little song about it, just to make people laugh," he said. "I played it for the band and they liked it, and then it became a song and I hated it."
Clinton at first fought the song's inclusion on the album tooth and nail, but relented once he heard what Ergopop producers John Schroeder and Costa Stasinopoulos had done to the track. Under their guidance, the song became a dirty, frantic guitar assault that was aggressive, catchy and good-humored.
Clinton cited the song's transformation as one example of why he and his band chose to record at Ergopop.
"Someone showed me Cecada and told me I should check out Costa and John," Clinton said. "When I heard Cecada, I just sat in the car and listened to it, and I was like 'this is Tulsa? F**k, this is good.' I was immediately struck. Cecada's still one of my favorite bands in town."
Regarding Tulsa's music scene at large, Clinton surprises himself with the newfound confidence he has in the local scene. "The thing that amazes me about the Tulsa's music scene now," he said. "Is that whenever somebody says 'hey, you should check this band out, they're good,' I can actually believe them."
On that note, you all should check out Cody Clinton and the Bishops when they open for Blind Melon on Sunday night. They're good.
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