In the fall of 1990 I picked up a cassette by Mother Love Bone called Apple. I’d heard their song “Stardog Champion” and felt I needed the album. After arriving home from the mall and giving the case a good once over I noticed on the back of the cassette cover it said “In Memory Of Andrew Wood”. “Hmm, who’s that?”, I thought to myself before pulling out the sleeve to read the lyrics and noticed Andrew Wood was the singer.
Oh. Wow. Well that’s a real bummer.
I grew to absolutely love Apple and Mother Love Bone. They were a unique band in a sea of sameness in the music scene of 1990-1991. They were unabashedly open in regards to their love of 70s AOR rock. Wood was a Freddie Mercury fan, and his flamboyant fashion and love of entertaining a crowd of music lovers is what made Mother Love Bone so special. It was a bittersweet thing, to discover a new band and fall in love with their album only to know that you’d never get anything else from them because arguably the heart of the band had tragically stopped beating.
Fast forward to April 1991 and the release of Temple of the Dog, a musical therapy session of sorts. Temple of the Dog consisted of Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell and Matt Cameron, Mother Love Bone’s Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament, as well as guitarist Mike McCready(there was this Ed Vedder guy that showed up and sang on a song, too.) It was essentially Seattle friends coming together to mourn the death of their friend, roommate, and band mate Andrew Wood. Cornell was his friend and roommate and took his death from a heroin overdose especially hard. He wrote two songs about his friend, “Say Hello 2 Heaven” and “Reach Down”. He asked Gossard and Ament to help him record them which turned into coffee, jam sessions, and some one-off shows around Seattle. Two songs turned into 10 and Temple of the Dog was born.
As well as being a fan of Mother Love Bone in 1991 I was also a huge Soundgarden fan. I’d bought Louder The Love a year before and was pretty much blown away. Cornell had a voice that burned right through you. He showed a knack for belting out inhuman barks that could shatter longnecks for miles around, but on first listen to the opening track of Temple of the Dog I was floored. “Say Hello 2 Heaven” was this beautiful, soulful track that showed Chris Cornell was much more than a belting heavy metal banshee. “Reach Down” followed it up with over 11 minutes of phase-shifting guitar slow jams. Mike McCready is a disciple of Hendrix and David Gilmour and he shows his love for both on this track. He’ll take that guitar tone to even greater heights with Pearl Jam and Mad Season, but on this record his bluesy riffage is refreshing. “Hunger Strike” was the song that introduced the world to TotD, and the video by the sea showed the perfect mood for the gritty track. We were also introduced to Eddie Vedder(that guy that would go onto sing for that one band.)
Elsewhere “Pushin’ Forward Back” is a banger. Riff-heavy track with some of Cornell’s best singing to this point. Matt Cameron has a way of making heavy drums sound more than just “rawk” drums. This song has some great drumming to back the biting guitars. There’s some great soulful moments, like on “Call Me A Dog”, and “All Night Thing”. There’s some real vulnerability, which is quite the juxtaposition to just a few months later when Cornell gets back to redefining metal in the age of generation X with songs like “Jesus Christ Pose” and “Outshined”. “Times Of Trouble” hint at things to come for Ament and Gossard as this track feels a lot like a Pearl Jam song. “Wooden Jesus” breaks new ground for all involved, and may or may not have influenced those Alice In Chains guys to unplug on a couple EPs. “Your Savior” is more crunchy riffage. This could’ve been a Soundgarden track. “Four Walled World” is a bluesy minor key jam that feels like a well worn pair of shoes you can slip right back into, no matter how long its been since you’ve worn them.
Over time this album got lost in the mass of music I’ve purchased over the last 25 years, much like most of what I was listening to in high school. Well just a few months ago it was announced Temple of the Dog were getting back together for a few reunion shows to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Temple of the Dog‘s release. As well as a little tour they would be releasing a 25th anniversary edition of the album on double vinyl with a remixing by Brendan O’Brien. This got me thinking about all the car rides and late nights this album soundtracked for me. All the amazing albums this record had preceded. It was before Badmotorfinger, Ten, Nevermind, Dirt, Blood Sugar Sex Magik, and countless others I worshipped clear through 1993. In many ways I think Temple of the Dog upped the game for everyone. Not only that, but they did it with nothing in mind other than to grieve and heal from the loss of a friend. There were no preconceived notions to make a banger of an album. Some songs of healing turned into some incredible songwriting. “Hunger Strike”, “Call Me A Dog”, “Wooden Jesus”, and “Times Of Trouble” are absolute stellar songwriting, regardless of what you’re into. It’s a kind of musical magic that only comes from some great happiness or sadness. The soul longs to rejoice or repent in these moments, and music seems to be the spiritual elixir needed.
Of course I had to buy this LP. It’s beautifully packaged and the remixing sounds absolutely amazing. Putting it on the turntable I was taken aback by just how good it sounded. There’s no dated engineering tricks or effects. It’s a timeless record, really. Five friends coming together in the studio and laying down these raw nerve emotions with guitar, bass, drums, and vocals. This is how music is supposed to sound when it means something. It’s an album that can’t be duplicated, replicated, or continued. What’s done is done. A second album under the name Temple of the Dog would be blasphemy in my opinion. It’s lightning in a bottle. A feeling of desperation that turns to joy.
I think Andrew Wood would’ve liked it.