For My Friends
First Appeared in The Music Box, July 2008, Volume 15, #7
Written by John Metzger
Thu July 3, 2008, 06:30 AM CDT
Whether it because of a willing separation or an untimely death, it is never easy for a band to overcome the loss of a key member, and replacing a lead singer who had a dominating presence can be downright impossible. There really are only a few options available to those outfits with a desire to persevere through such hardship: become an instrumental ensemble, find a new vocalist to carry the group in a new direction, or wait a respectful duration of time before hiring someone who can approximate the singing style of the person who left. The trend of late definitely seems to fall squarely into the latter camp. After all, The Doors recently commissioned Ian Astbury to fill the shoes of Jim Morrison, INXS turned its auditions to replace Michael Hutchence into a realty television program, and Journey has made several attempts to find a replacement for Steve Perry. Nostalgia may be good for business, but despite the initial attention that these acts received, not one of them has really done much to leave a lasting impression.
Blind Melon, then, is just the latest in a growing list of ensembles that have made an attempt to regroup in spite of what appear to be almost insurmountable odds. In 1995, at the peak of its powers, Blind Melonís world came crumbling down when its troubled front man Shannon Hoon overdosed before a gig in New Orleans. For more than 11 years, the outfit remained dormant. However, after a chance encounter with singer Travis Warren in 2006, the band embarked upon a brief, low-key tour to test the waters before it stepped into the studio to begin recording its new album For My Friends. In fact, releasing the effort prior to mounting a massive tour and fully resurrecting its profile may be the outfitís only chance at having any semblance of success.
With a fresh batch of songs, Blind Melon is able, at least for the moment, to resist being tagged simply as band that is covering itself. It also is the reason that both AC/DC and Genesis were able to carry onward and grow bigger in the face of what could have been destructive blows to their established empires. Just as Phil Collins initially echoed Peter Gabrielís style and much like Brian Johnson stood only a stoneís throw away from Bon Scott ó Warren is very much a devotee of Hoon. In fact, there are times when his vocal style comes as close to his idolís approach as is humanly possible. Consequently, For My Friends will be either very easy or very difficult for Blind Melonís fans to embrace. To put it simply, some will love it, while others will greet it with a whole lot of skepticism.
Without a doubt, For My Friends is the long overdue follow-up to Blind Melonís sophomore set Soup. Over the course of its latest affair, the band ó which continues to feature guitarists Christopher Thorn and Rogers Stevens, bass player Brad Smith, and drummer Glen Graham ó comes together just as it always did. While itís true that the effort doesnít exactly propel the group forward, it both musically and lyrically does fall very much in line with Blind Melonís previous pursuits, particularly when the collective locks into the angst-filled groove of a song like Down on the Pharmacy. Between the fat bass lines and the tangled guitars, there is no mistaking these cautionary tales for those of any other outfit. Whenever Warren sings, itís eerie how he not only echoes Hoonís anguished, raspy howl but also how he co-opts his mannerisms.
Nevertheless, For My Friends is a little off the mark. There is no denying that Warren passionately delivers his lyrics and that he gives the music everything he has. When Hoon sang, though, it convincingly sprang from the perspective of a man who not only felt all of the worldís pain but also took it upon himself to carry this weight upon his own shoulders. Warren, too, seems to be attuned to societyís ailments ó and subsequently has had similar struggles with alcohol and other drugs ó but there is a nagging sense that something is missing from his performance. There is an intangible level of connection that escapes him, and although he frequently hits all of the right notes, they often emit a hollow ring. As a result, he frequently sounds more like an impressionist rather than a bonafide front man. For what itís worth, Warren clearly has enough talent to overcome this obstacle, but first he needs to stop trying to imitate his predecessor so that he can find his own way. As far as these sorts of endeavors go, For My Friends isnít all that bad, though it hardly is the sort of album that is going to reach very far beyond Blind Melonís most fanatical followers. Ĺ
Of Further Interest...
For My Friends is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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