Top of the Pops: Soup

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March 2, 2016 by NowhereButPop

by Andrew Doscas

Every decade there’s a band or musician who never really becomes as big as they should have been.  In the 70s it was Boston, in the 80s it was Cyndi Lauper, and in the 90s it was Blind Melon.  You know, those dirty hippies who had that bee girl in the video for their song “No Rain”.  They opened for the Rolling Stones, and had earned praise from hard rock bands like Guns N’ Roses and grunge bands such as Nirvana and Sound Garden.  During a time where rock music was so fragmented from the rise of alternative, grunge, industrial and heavy metal, Blind Melon was a rock band built for the 90s.  While their first album may have brought them to the mainstream, it’s really their sophomore album, the erroneously maligned Soup, that proves to be the bands’ best offering.

I don’t know what it was about 1995 but so many depressing albums came out that year.  The Red Hot Chili Peppers released One Hot Minute, Smashing Pumpkins released Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, and Alanis Morissette released Jagged Little Pill.  All of those albums have nothing on Soup, which sounds like lead singer Shannon Hoons’ suicide note.  Unfortunately, that’s exactly what the album would become however, as he overdosed on cocaine about two months after the album was released.  As it stands though, Soup, despite never receiving the commercial nor critical acclaim that it deserved, is one of the best rock albums of the 90s.

On Soup, the band, Hoon in particular, seemed to do everything humanely possible to convince the rest of the world that they weren’t the bunch of tree-hugging misfits that people saw in the “No Rain” video.  Soup is a dark album rife with funky grooves, haunting acoustic twangs, and a sense of self-loathing that Anthony Kiedis could never muster.  Songs like “2 X 4”, “Toes Across the Floor” and “Walk” all illustrate, in brutal honesty, Hoons’ losing battle with drug addiction.  “I’m in a pile of puke, empty bag of excuses” sings Hoon on “Walk”, arguably the most guttural track on Soup.  Whereas Billy Corgan seeks to exalt and beautify his misery, Hoon expresses futility in trying to fight his own despair.  On “St. Andrew’s Fall”, another song whose manic music contrasts its harrowing lyrics, Hoon quite literally sings about jumping off a 20 story building to meet his own demise.  All in all, it’s very easy to comprehend that a happy man is not singing these songs.

Even when he’s not writing songs about his insatiable drug addiction or contemplating the benefits of killing himself, death is never far from Hoons’ mind.  “Skinned” is a country ditty inspired by the murders of Ed Gein, while “Car Seat (God’s Presents)” is about the real life story of a mother who drowned her kids in the back of a car.  Not only could Hoon not escape his own desolation, he also couldn’t escape the misery of others.

The only two songs on Soup that resemble happiness are the albums’ opening track “Galaxie”, a 90s take on Zeppelins’ “Ramble On”, and “New Life” which celebrates the birth of Hoons’ daughter.  Much like Sublime leader, Brad Nowell, the hope was that upon becoming a father, Hoon would be able to finally kick his addiction.  But exactly like Nowell, despite the overflowing joy that he felt at being a father, Hoon was unable to overcome his drug dependency.  Not only did it wind up costing him his life, but it also cost a little girl her father.

And then there’s “Mouthful of Cavities”.  The penultimate track on Soup is one of those songs that sounds like it was made from the collective soul of the band, and considering the fate of the band after the album, it sounds more like the ghost of Shannon Hoon is singing this tune.  The most forlorn song on Soup, “Mouthful of Cavities” invites listeners inside the mind of Shannon Hoon to see how hopeless he really seemed in those last few months leading up to his death.  It’s on “Mouthful of Cavities” that Hoon throws the towel in and fully lets his despair wrap itself around him like a blanket made from thistles and self-loath.  “Your soul’s a bowl of jokes” and “Cause one of these days this will die, so will me and so will you” convey not only a sense of loss, but a feeling of inescapable depression.  The backing vocals by Jena Kraus only serve to heighten the haunted feeling of “Mouthful of Cavities” as it seems both vocalists are lamenting the loss of a good friend.  In actuality, Hoon was just waving goodbye to himself.

Soup literally killed Shannon Hoon.  Against the advice of doctors and his rehab counselor, Hoon went on tour in support of the album, and after a performance Hoon relapsed and overdosed on October 20, 1995.  But like a phoenix rising from its ashes, Soup has endured as a retroactive classic, an album that by unanimous decision never received the acclaim it deserved during the album’s life cycle, much like Hoon himself.  From the inspired music, drawing on a wide range of influences like funk, psychedelic, country, and rock, to the brutally honest and gorgeously guttural lyrics, Soup is a phenomenal album.  The emotional outpouring is much rawer than anything Kurt Cobain could ever conceive of, and doesn’t suffer from the same sense of egotism as Billy Corgans’ perpetual sadness.  What it comes down to, is that Soup is the best album recorded by a band that never became as big as they should have.  It’s the most undervalued album of the 90s and showed the world what Blind Melon was really all about—Bee Girl be damned.

 

 

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