"Temple of the Dog", the cult grunge album

“Temple of the Dog”, the cult grunge album

It was published on April 16, 1991 “Temple of the dog”an album born on the emotional wave of the death of the singer of Mother Love Bone Andy Wood. The album was born thanks to Chris Cornell who gathered some musicians from the Seattle scene to remember their friend Andy. Shortly thereafter, grunge exploded in all its glory and the members of that impromptu group transformed into rock stars. That was the only album he recorded Temple of the Dog. We remember the anniversary by publishing the review that Claudio Todesco made the deluxe edition of the album released in 2016 which celebrated its 25th anniversary.

It's one of the cult records of those who were in their twenties in the early 90s. It's the poignant memory of a friend, the union of two great bands and a symbol of friendship, if not brotherhood. The demonstration that, where there is talent, even a project born suddenly and grown spontaneously can become a masterpiece. It's one of the best things to come out of Seattle in the pre-boom years. It is “Temple of the dog”, the first and only album of the band of the same name, a union of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam born after the death of Andy Wood of Mother Love Bone. Having put the controversy over the rights to the work behind us, it is reissued with the addition of a second CD of demos and outtakes in the deluxe version and a DVD and a Blu-Ray in the super deluxe version.

Everyone would talk about a record like this today.

Twenty-five years ago it went unnoticed only to be listened to again, reevaluated and transformed into a cult piece a year later, thanks to the success of “Ten” and “Badmotorfinger” and more generally of the so-called Seattle Sound. “Temple of the dog” is first and foremost a record by Chris Cornell, the sole author of 7 out of 10 compositions. He was the lead singer of Soundgarden and wrote the first two songs dedicated to Andy Wood, the metal cabaret artist from Seattle (definition by Jack Endino) who died for an overdose in March 1990. Before the advent of grunge he was considered the local next big thing for his skills as a singer and frontman and for his imaginative creations, but also for the companions he brought with him, namely Mother Love Bone, a band whose release of the box set “On earth as it is” is expected on November 4th. Two future Pearl Jam players played there, guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament. It was the latter who listened to Cornell's demo containing “Say hello 2 heaven” and “Reach down” from which the album was born. Cornell was at the peak of his possibilities and the musicians who accompanied him – the two mentioned, plus the guitarist Mike McCready with whom they had just founded Pearl Jam and the Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron – were at a fundamental turning point not only in their career, but of their life.

Everything that had been there and part of what would soon be there ended up in the album, a formidable collector of creative energies recorded over the course of a few weekends between November and December 1990.

The album represented the debut in a professional recording studio not only of McCready, but also of Pearl Jam's singer, the then unknown Eddie Vedder, who contributed backing vocals to three songs and above all to transform “Hunger strike” into a duet epochal – curiously, in the reissue booklet Cornell tells the story of the recording of the piece in a slightly different way from how it was known. Along with “Call me a dog”, “Your savior” and “Wooden Jesus”, the piece sung with Vedder had been written before Wood's death, but ended up marking the project thanks also to the video shot in Discovery Park, northwest of Seattle Downtown, where the Mother Love Bone singer's friends used to gather. If Vedder's role is marginal overall, McCready's is absolutely central. Despite his inexperience and such obvious references to the style of Jimi Hendrix and the spectacular rock-blues of Stevie Ray Vaughan, his performances are superlative.

Today the original album has been remixed by Brendan O'Brien: it's a step further than a simple remastering, but it doesn't change the sonic balance.

The producer removes some of the reverb that was used at the time, but it is a decidedly less radical operation than the one done on “Ten”, which like this work was produced by Rick Parashar. The first CD is enriched at the end by three other new alternative mixes curated by Adam Kasper who in a curious experiment deprives “Say hello 2 heaven” of the rhythmic thrust, leaving its melodic and guitar skeleton. The second CD contains alternative versions of the songs on the 1991 album. The demos recorded by Cornell alone of “Say hello 2 heaven” and “Reach down” stand out. The songs, especially the first, are already perfectly formed and show that the band only had to follow the singer's intention. But the difference in impact and “evil” between the “Reach Down” demo and the version with Temple of the Dog is notable: Cameron and the future Pearl Jam knew how to take it to another level. Performed on a four-track by superimposing voice, guitar, bass and an 808 drum machine track, the two tracks also have a historical-sentimental value, so to speak: they are the versions that Ament listened to and from which the entire project came to life.

Of even greater interest are the only two unreleased compositions offered by the reissue, namely “Angel of fire” and “Black cat”.

According to Cornell, quoted by David Fricke in the liner notes, the songs were not written for the album, but most likely composed afterwards. The first, although offering some harmonic assonance with the rest of the '91 album, does not have the same quality in writing, and being a demo, neither does it have the impact. It's more like a songwriting effort by Cornell, who sings with a strangely nasal voice and accompanies himself with what sounds like a Rickenbacker. Clinking sounds (a metallophone? triangles? glass bottles?) open “Black cat”. It's a blues with Cornell's voice that seems to come from another world (or from the '30s) with a nice contrast between the rhythmic accompaniment reduced to a minimum and the distortions of the electric guitar. A promising idea. Another eight outtakes recorded with the band and mixed in 2016 by Adam Kasper complete the second disc: they are mostly demos and alternative versions, with two “Times of trouble” of which one is instrumental, which do not change the perception we have of the the album, the project, the band.

The DVD attached to the super deluxe version, which unfortunately we were not able to see before closing the review, contains six songs taken from the group's first and only performance of the time, in November 1990 at the Off Ramp Café in Seattle filmed by Terry Date from mix desk. And then the video clip for “Hunger strike”; the video for “Say hello 2 heaven” shot at Moore in December 1990; “Hunger Strike” at Lollapalooza 1992; five live pieces filmed in Apline Valley in September 2011, during Pearl Jam's twentieth anniversary celebrations, with guests Glen Hansard, Dhani Harrison, Liam Finn, David Garza; “Call me a dog” and “Reach down” from Mad Season's concert at Benaroya Hall in Seattle in January 2015. A Blu-Ray contains the album's audio 96kHz 24-bit in 5.1 surround mix by Adam Kasper and the videos in HD of “Hunger strike” and materials at Moore, Alpine Valley and Benaroya.

After recording at the London Bridge Studio and playing at the Off Ramp, Temple of the Dog decided they would no longer perform together, giving the album and the project an aura of uniqueness. Today the five musicians have betrayed that oath – and after all, a quarter of a century has passed, they have become scandalously famous, they certainly cannot be accused of exploiting Wood's memory. A tour will take them around the United States, McCready has said he is available to repeat in Europe, Cornell has not ruled out the possibility of recording a second album. However it goes, “Temple of the dog” remains unique in the history of Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Mother Love Bone, a moment of rare grace and inspiration in which one of the most atrocious deaths, the death of a friend at just 24 years, gave rise to a masterpiece.