It seems to be supergroup crazy here at the moment. As I am sure I have outlined elsewhere, super groups sometimes come off with a whiff of self indulgence and can come off as a vanity project for the people involved. There is a different back story to Temple Of The Dog from the outset. In 1990, Andrew Wood who was the singer of Malfunkshun and Mother Love Bone died of a heroin overdose. These were leading lights in what would eventually evolve into the Seattle Grunge scene. His flat mate Chris Cornell (front man from Soundgarden) had wrote two songs as a tribute to his fallen friend and wanted to release these as a single. He approached two of Wood's old band mate's Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament to see if they would help him record them. Completing the line-up Cornell called in Soundgarden (and future Pearl Jam) drummer Matt Cameron and future Pearl Jam lead guitarist Mike McCready. The band took their mocker from a Mother Love Bone song called "Man Of Golden Words". The idea of a single was soon abandoned in favour of an EP or an album. Also the album features backing vocals from Eddie Vedder who was in town auditioning for Mookie Blaylock which would become Pearl Jam. Produced by the band themselves and recorded in 15 days and without expectations, the band released their tribute to Andrew Wood. After 20 years how does the album stand up?
When this was released there was no Pearl Jam and Soundgarden were still in their early days so to speak (ie - still making the underground their own and before they had released Badmotorfinger which changed their fortunes. It is easy to see the influence that this experience would have on both bands, but at the time it would have been a whole different kettle of fish. Starting with "Say Hello 2 Heaven" which was one of the two tribute songs write as tribute for Andrew Wood. Mournful in sound and blues-esque in delivery it is a sombre opening, but due to the mature of the project a perfectly opening as well. The next track is the other specially written track is "Reach Down" which is over eleven minutes long and has one of the best solos of the grunge era as well, it is still mournful; but again you can understand why. Yet it feels a lot more powerful to be honest and brings to mind future Soundgarden sounds which Cornell would bring into the band. However, what came next is the game changer for the album and everyone involved - "Hunger Strike". This song is the only one which Eddie Vedder has lead vocals on the album (all his other contributions are backing vocals), he picked up the song as Chris Cornell could not get the vocals quite right on them. Vedder came in and nailed it straight away. This song is just legendary, soaring and mesmerising; truly it is a stone cold classic song of the era.
After this you have the more rocking "Pushing Forward Back", any song would have a hard time following what had went before with the first three tracks; this song doesn't even try. It just goes out and makes a lot of noise which after an emotional rollercoaster is what the record needed. "Call Me A Dog" goes back for a more blues sound and the pain that is being felt by the band is on show for all to see. Every note feels like they have had to drag it out of a broken heart, fix it up slightly and make it presentable to the world. Then comes "Times Of Trouble", which was eventually recorded as "Footsteps" by Pearl Jam. Again, you will not be surprised to hear that it is not exactly the most happiest of tunes. It is showing the pain that is going on with all of them and misery is sounding good so far.
"Wooden Jesus" is up next and it continues the good form that had been made before. I remember when I first heard this I was thrown by the addition of a banjo solo in the middle of the song, but it suits the track perfectly. In fact it is the track that almost the track of the album and would have been if it was not for "Hunger Strike". Up after this is "Your Saviour" is back with a swagger that will not be surprising as the band were obviously on fire at this point. If I am honest, it is the weakest track on the album; but this is like saying it is the smallest mountain in the Alps - it is still a mountain and huge, just like this track. This track is still a beautiful song, but it does not stir as much as the rest of the album. Back on the blues and brooding aspect of their personalities you have "Four Walled World" which is as dark as anything else you will hear on this album; it has a tremendous solo and a fantastic vocal performance by Mr Cornell as well. Ending the album is "All Night Thing" which feels like a gospel piece in someways, brushes being used on the drums, organ in the background, Cornell singing like he could charm the devil back to the light, which guides the album home in a much more quieter way that you would have expected.
I don't think there could have been a better tribute to their friend. It is a stunning album which still sounds relevant today as it did when it was first unleashed onto the world. Also as they have never recorded anything else since and have never toured (there has been the odd sort of reunion with various people turning at shows sort of thing). The album is a standalone testament that after the lost of someone close something beautiful can be made, it is also a glorious reminder that the artists involved were on top form for a tribute to Andrew Wood. Rest in peace Andrew, rest in peace sir.
10 out of ten - This is proof there is a god
Top track - Hunger Strike
You can purchase the album from Amazon here
There is no website for the band obviously
You can listen to the album on Spotify here
Here is a video for "Hunger Strike" - how youthful do they all look....