The explosion of grunge rock music, emerging primarily from the Seattle region, takes an interesting turn today with the supergroup Temple of the Dog and their self-titled album. One of the more interesting factors is the timing of the release of this record, from a band that contained Chris Cornell from Soundgarden and Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam on vocals, along with other musicians like Mike McCready, Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament from Pearl Jam, along with drummer Matt Cameron who played with Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. The group was founded by Cornell as a tribute to his friend Andrew Wood, the lead singer of Mother Love Bone, a predecessor of Pearl Jam, who had recently died from a heroin overdose. Interestingly enough, this album was released before Pearl Jam or Soundgarden hit it big with their own releases later this same year, so it ultimately did not garner too much attention until after Cornell and Vedder had ascended to star status. Respected in total, “Temple of the Dog” stands as the #9 rated grunge album of all time by loudwire.com.
When I look at the “Big Five” of grunge vocalists, even if they all arrived at a common genre, each of their sounds originate from different roots. Cornell had the range to front a power metal band like Iron Maiden, while Vedder had the deeper baritone who would have been a perfect option to step in for the Doors. This fit was so natural he even sang for the band when they were inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain could have seamlessly led a hardcore punk band like Black Flag, Alice In Chain’s Layne Staley was well suited to fill in for the Prince of Darkness (Ozzy Osbourne) in Black Sabbath, and Scott Weiland from Stone Temple Pilots had a glam side that would have suited him well in front of Aerosmith. Different sounds and styles converging in one musical movement, and much more tragically, a musical lifestyle of grim dark depression and heavy drug consumption. Sadly, only Vedder escaped and survived to today, with all of the others losing the battle to mental health and drug addiction.
With this dark reality already present as a backdrop for “Temple of the Dog”, it isn’t surprising that the first two songs, “Say Hello 2 Heaven”, and the way-too-long plodding track “Reach Down”, directly address this premature loss of life, relating to their friend Andrew Wood. The one track most will clearly recognize is “Hunger Strike”, which is the only track to primarily feature Vedder on vocals, with Cornell providing complementing lead vocals and some unique harmony contrasts. It is the best song on the record, and the titanic performances from these two legends define the song.
“Pushin’ Forward Back” is a riff-driven rocker, reminiscent of some of the best Soundgarden tracks, and a really good tune. “Call Me A Dog” is a slower sad song that is a great showcase for the range, power and emotion of Chris Cornell on a softer scale. Other favorites on this album include “Your Savior”, powered by another great riff, and “Times of Trouble”, which is a slower, bluesy grind.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this record, having only heard “Hunger Strike” prior to today. Other than the excessiveness of “Reach Down”, that did have me hesitant as track number two, the rest of this album was a pleasant surprise and stands as a tribute to friendship and a representation of true collaboration by several of the biggest rock names of the 1990s.