Were it not for the fatal heroin overdose of Andrew Wood, modern rock supergroup Pearl Jam might never have formed. Instead, we might all be singing the praises of, and singing along with, Mother Love Bone. In the late 1980s, when they were THE band on the Seattle scene, Andrew was their lead singer, lyricist, and spiritual force. They recorded an EP, "Shine," and a full-length album, "Apple," in their unexpectedly brief time together. On March 19th, 1990, Andrew Wood died. Today, exactly eight years later, The Big Room is offered as a tribute and remembrance of his musical legacy.
As a tribute to their friend, Andrew's ex-roommate and some ex-bandmates of his from Mother Love Bone played a few concerts and recorded an album of new songs. That ex-roommmate is Chris Cornell of Soundgarden; those ex-bandmates are Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament, the foundation of Pearl Jam. The group they formed and the album they released are called Temple Of The Dog, their name taken from a lyric of Andrew's. Had Andrew lived and all gone well, Stone and Jeff might still be in Mother Love Bone, never having a reason to leave, never forming Pearl Jam.
Andrew Wood and Mother Love Bone had something that set them apart from other Seattle groups. Nirvana had adolescent angst and depression recurring in its music. Pearl Jam has fight and rage. Soundgarden had a sort of bleak mania. But Mother Love Bone had something sweeter: Melancholy, introspective and unassuming. Hard rock blasts and tearful memories alike seem sparked from an earnest desire to belong, a hint of lonesome resignation, a wish to give and spread love, to brighten the sad world. If this was the attitude that Andrew shone on his listeners and friends, it is no wonder he was so widely and deeply missed.
After the stunning and deserved success of Pearl Jam's debut effort, "Ten," there was a community of people around Seattle and around the country who would say to anyone who'd listen, "Pearl Jam, Eddie Vedder? They're good. But you gotta listen to Mother Love Bone -- it blows Pearl Jam away." I was reached by this community, and I pass it on to you: All of Mother Love Bone's major-label material is available in one package at a single-CD price. It had polish and swagger and balls and heart, all traits that lived on in "Ten." The next time you see the movie "Singles," see the camera lingering on the words "Mother Love Bone" scrawled on a wall, listen to "Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns," Mother Love Bone's contribution to the soundtrack, you'll understand, and maybe you'll be converted, too.
The shades are drawn in The Big Room. Andrew, we miss you still.
Mother Love Bone -- _Mother Love Bone_ (Mercury, 1992)
Blowouts like "Mindshaker Meltdown" and "Captain Hi-Top" foretell Pearl Jam's high-energy rants. Post-Zeppelin epics like "Heartshine," "This Is Shangrila," and "Stardog Champion" pack 6 minutes of punches in packages that hit both modern and classic rockers with assured force. The band's signature melancholy, on tracks like "Stargazer," "Man Of Golden Words," and "Gentle Groove," swings with childlike appeal, inviting and sweetly visceral, compelling and confessional. But the album's apex, the magnificent "Chloe Dancer/Crown Of Thorns," is their crowning achievement, an awesome, emotional, thoughtfully soundscaped masterpiece. More than just the music of "the band before Pearl Jam," this is a testament to a brilliance just begun, a promise unfulfilled, what the future would have been.
Pearl Jam -- _Ten_ (Epic, 1991)
There's almost nothing left to say about this record, the obvious followup to Mother Love Bone's "Apple." It's a fantastic album; you all know that already. So I'll say my piece and move on: I think he would have liked it.
Temple Of The Dog -- _Temple Of The Dog_ (A&M, 1991)
Opening with the heartfelt tribute tunes written by Chris Cornell, "Say Hello 2 Heaven" and "Reach Down," this is a sweet tribute and, as you'd expect from such strong musicians, an excellent album in its own right. Its inital release preceded the rise of Eddie Vedder, Pearl Jam, and the Seattle scene, and it went nowhere. Its re-release fared much better, charting with the acoustic-based sing-along "Hunger Strike," Vedder and Cornell trading shouts of "I don't mind stealing bread" in an energized duet. It deserved its second-chance success, with tracks like the bluesy "All Night thing," the intimate "Call Me A Dog," and the high-energy pulse of "Pushing Forward Back" all hitting home with a sound like none of Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, or Mother Love Bone, but instead a saddened, bluesy hybrid of them all. More than just a moving tribute, it is moving rock that escapes Seattle cliches, melodic, blues-drenched, sad, and engrossing.
Eric Aaron hopes Andrew Wood has found his gentle groove. Eric is a graduate student, a guitarist in Ithaca-based band The EFFECT, and still wondering what might have been.
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