“She had nothing left to say, so she said she loved me. And I stood there grateful for the lie.” –Doug Hopkins
Right after Cobain and Company turned the music industry on its ear in the early 90’s, a slew of bands were signed instantly just for having the slightest stink of grunge on them. I won’t argue here about who should fall into that category, but I will defend one that should not, The Gin Blossoms.
Formed in Tempe, AZ in ‘87, the band eventually settled on a lineup that included Doug Hopkins and Jesse Valenzuela on guitar, Robin Wilson up front, with Bill Leen and Philip Rhodes rounding out the rhythm section. The Blossoms were major players in a different scene down in Tempe, part of the greater Phoenix area far removed from the Seattle vibe. Other local bands to break around the same time were Meat Puppets, Dead Hot Workshop, and later, Jimmy Eat World.
While most of the grungers focused on angsty lyrics with distorted power chords, The Gin Blossoms showcased the same kind of despair lyrically (especially in Hopkins’ lyrics), but couched them in melodic hooks that were irresistible. Case in point is this week’s subject, “Lost Horizons”. Coming out of my country music phase around ‘94, I picked up the New Miserable Experience CD one day, mostly on a whim, liking what I had heard on the radio. “Lost Horizons” is the opening track, and it wasted no time converting my ears, pounding that layered, power pop sound out of my Magnavox stereo.
This song showcases what the band does so well, chasing shots of burningly bleak lyrics with riffs so punchy, it takes a few listens to even get what a sad story he’s telling. From the opening blast of guitars, to the final crash that transitions into their first single, “Hey Jealousy”, this song has plenty to feast on through lots of listenings. Take the transition from the line ending with “stay awake” that lulls down to a drone, only to kick back up into high gear without warning on the line “I’ll drink enough of anything” that almost sounds like Wilson is shouting. The song doesn’t use an easily-defined verse/chorus progression, just musical sequences that repeat themselves. You could call the middle of the song a two-part bridge: “Turn summer trees…gardens and the graves” serving as part one and then “Maybe I could use you….” as part two, and this is where headphones come in really handy. I didn’t notice how cool Bill Leen’s baseline sounds here until recently. He’s pushed forward in the mix behind Robin’s vocals until we get to a guitar arpeggio at “on anybody else”. The song then builds toward a “resigning” ending.
There are tons of catchy tunes that are really shallow lyrically, or purposely vague. There are also dark, twisted tales of woe set to music that sound so boring it’s hard to get through more than one listen. This first Gin Blossoms album is their best, and the opening track has all of the Gen X angst you could want without the flannel. The picture that’s painted right away of “bars and factories” where “we all fight to stay awake”, and then the numbing of alcohol (“I’ll drink enough of anything…) that eventually led to Hopkins suicide. It’s easy to see the “summer trees” turning to “bones and ice” and imagine someone drunkenly running through a cemetery.
Say what you want about the Blossoms place in music history, but it’s hard to deny the power of this band in their prime after listening to “Lost Horizons”
There does not appear to be a version of the song out there that’s easily embedded, so here’s its direct link in Pandora