Over the past week, there has been a lot of enthusiasm and anticipation directed towards a band most people completely forgot about: Temple of the Dog. The group was a one and done ensemble that featured members of Soundgarden and members of what later became Pearl Jam. After their formation in 1990, the Seattle alt-rock group released their one and only album the following year. Over the last 25 years the music world has seen the supergroup meet for a few rare reunion gigs, but never have they toured together as a band. Starting in November, fans will finally get the opportunity to witness a brief, yet long overdue reunion. Temple of the Dog is set to make a return to commemorate their sole album’s 25th anniversary. The group will reunite for their first ever tour with five headlining shows in Philadelphia, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle.
Those who are true fans of rock music could sense that the Seattle grunge scene was starting to completely take over. By the end of 1990, the Seattle sound had the rest of rock in a stranglehold. With an attitude that resembled the Stooges, Led Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath, Soundgarden was one of the first acts to give Seattle its new identity with an exuberant, fast-paced sound. Their second and third albums, Louder Than Love and Badmotorfinger helped jump start this new era. Mudhoney was another leading act of the Seattle sound that helped give birth to the grunge era with their self-titled debut album in 1989. To keep things going, Alice in Chains stormed in with their 1990 debut album, Facelift, which caught the attention of the hard rock and metal crowd. Just as all these acts were taking off, a small logging town in Aberdeen, Washington gave the world an unexpected act known as Nirvana. The trio intermixed different sounds in a way that was undeniably groundbreaking. After the release of their sophomore album, Nevermind in 1991, rock music was never the same.
However, Temple of the Dog’s legacy is a little different as their origins are not that of most bands. Mother Love Bone was just another act thrown in the grunge mix that was destined for success. Unfortunately, right as they were set to take off with the release of their debut album, lead singer Andrew Wood tragically died in 1990 of a heroin overdose. Mother Love Bone disbanded and the rest is rock and roll history. Surviving members Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard recruited Seattle guitarist Mike McCready and a new frontman as they began forming their new band. That frontman was an unknown singer from California, Eddie Vedder.
Before the release of the 1991 debut, Ten, still performing under the name Mookie Blaylock, Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and former roommate of Andrew Wood, approached the members of Blaylock (Pearl Jam) with a few songs he had written to honor his late friend. Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron joined thereafter, and the ensemble was complete. As a direct homage to Cornell’s fallen friend, the group got their name after a line from the Mother Love Bone song “Man of Golden Words”, and Temple of the Dog was upon us.
As their individual albums Ten and Badmotorfinger became legendary Seattle albums, Temple of the Dog preceded them both. Twenty-five years later, it’s easy to look back on Temple and their only album as the leading record for the grunge rock eruption that was about to take place. However, at the time the album seemed to be much more plain and was viewed as such. The album is a suppressed, softer record that possesses more of a mainstream influence compared to the jarring Seattle sounds that were beginning to make headway. Behind the accuracy and fidelity to their craft is the allure of TOTD. Like a bottle of wine or a fine cheese, age has only made Temple of the Dog that much better of an album.
Chris Cornell has always been a guru when it comes to songwriting and performing painfully heavy hard rock songs such as “Gun”, “Rusty Cage”, “Jesus Christ Pose”, and “Big Dumb Sex” for Soundgarden, but Temple of the Dog shows how vulnerable Cornell could be. He introduced his softer side, which proved to be one of his greatest feats as a musician. “Say Hello 2 Heaven” is a triumph because of Cornell’s adaptability. The song is in no hurry to rush through the beauty and sincerity of Cornell’s vocals. Over six minutes long, the song is a slow progression of Wood’s life and the influence he left behind. Cornell makes sure to incorporate the grace and power that Wood performed with. Wood’s identity as a frontman was always changing, and Cornell is able to expose Wood’s ability as an artist from an emotional side. McCready contributes with a captivatingly smooth solo that gave “Say Hello 2 Heaven” a level of depth that neither group was particularly known for in their early years.
When you listen to this album today, it’s amazing to pick out songs that hint at the future works of all these musicians. You can truly hear the chemistry and comradery that all future members of Pearl Jam had. That chemistry is what makes this album so unique and it’s what makes it work. There’s a difference between listening to music and hearing music. All six members of Temple of the Dog could hear one another. That is what makes an undeniably great tribute. The most genuine aspect of this tribute comes from Cornell’s lyricism. He is able to shine a light on Wood’s struggles and evoke an emotion that cannot be denied. Cornell sings, “New, like a baby / Lost, like a prayer/ The sky was your playground / but the cold ground was your bed.” “Now it seems like too much love is never enough / Yeah, you better seek out another road / ’cause this one has ended abrupt.”
The albums defining song comes from “Hunger Strike.” A song so true, a song embedded in reality for so many struggling artist in the grunge scene, “Hunger Strike” has quietly remained a signature song for the entire genre. Metal acts were focused on the drug- and sex-fueled music scene that carried their careers through the 80s; whereas, grunge acts, regardless if they were pretentious in their ideas of success, provided a little more substance. The defining verse of “Hunger Strike” reads, “I don’t mind stealing bread / From the mouths of decadence / But I can’t feed on the powerless / When my cup’s already overfilled.” Cornell and Vedder are able to work together to create their own interpretation of being a starving musician. It may be somewhat melodramatic but the song is about something true and that’s exactly what the fans bought into. The two musicians sing with completely opposite sounds that turned out to be an untouchable complement for one another.
The album runs a little long, but the smooth, even-tempered performances make for an easy listen. The album’s overall tone keep listeners guessing and even makes the deep cuts stand out that much more. “Pushin’ Forward Back” is another single off the album that is a surprisingly powerful track, while “Call Me a Dog” and “Times of Trouble” take the same direction as “Say Hello 2 Heaven”, both with a bare and relaxed tone.
Compared to the heavier albums that topped the charts during 1991, Temple of the Dog seemed like an oddity. It wasn’t a thrashing or forceful album, it was peaceful, delicate, and much more conventional compared to the other major albums. The album is unique but still possessed enough grit so the fans full of anger and angst still had something to relate to. A sound that nobody could predict is part of the record’s sustainability over all these years. The modest quality of TOTD is what made this a classic album for so many die hard fans of ’90s rock.
There’s a quote by Nick Hornby that reads, “What came first, the music or the misery?” In the instance of Temple of the Dog, the pain of losing a great artist in Andrew Wood led to the creation of renowned, distinguished music that has outlasted that misery. As a quarter century has now passed, Wood’s ability as a performer cannot be replaced nor replicated, but luckily fans have the opportunity to say hello 2 Temple and their classic album once more.