At the intersection of glam rock and grunge, you’ve got Mother Love Bone, a band that burned out before its first and only studio album was released. Mother Love Bone, a compilation that includes the full album from 1990 (Apple) and 1989 EP Shine is a fitting tribute.
Pearl Jam fans will find a certain familiarity in Mother Love Bone’s music. Before forming Pearl Jam, Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament made up two-fifths of Mother Love Bone, with Andrew Wood on vocals and piano.
Musically, there’s a strong connection between the bands. But there’s a big difference in tone and lyrics between the bands. Where Ten (Pearl Jam’s debut album) was super-serious, Mother Love Bone is often playful and lusty. I won’t say one is better than the other, but it’s interesting to think about the distinctions and what might kind of music Mother Love Bone would have made later if Wood hadn’t succumbed to heroin.
The entire disc is 17 tracks, but even with such a short sample, you get some amazing breadth. There’s a lot of groove in the tracks on Mother Love Bone. For example, “Come Bite the Apple” swaggers all over the stage. Bruce Fairweather, who kind of disappeared after Mother Love Bone, delivers some amazing guitar on this track. Gossard and Ament, and drummer Greg Gilmore, have a field day in the rhythm section. The song teases a few times, starting to fade out and then building back up to a another attack.
“Stargazer” is more of a ballad, sprinkled with ample acoustic guitar. The next track, “Heartshine” should have been a stadium rocker.
I went looking for Mother Love Bone’s music after jumping on the Pearl Jam bandwagon in the early 90s. I wanted more like Ten and wanted it right away. The best shorthand I could come up with was “imagine if Pearl Jam was fronted by Axl Rose instead of Eddie Vedder, but Axl wasn’t such an asshole.”
It would be unfair to cast Mother Love Bone as a proto-Pearl Jam, though. Right out of the gate, the band had some impressively mature tunes. “Man of Golden Words” deserves far more attention than it’s ever gotten. Here’s Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, and Temple of the Dog doing it live on an acoustic guitar.
Mother Love Bone was just as capable of dropping raunchy “lock up your kids” songs that would have had Tipper Gore swooning if they’d been released (and popular) in the 80s.
“Capricorn Sister” immediately rushes into orbit. Full of crunchy guitar and Wood’s stream of consciousness saturnalia, it’s a ride that raises the energy level of the album a hundredfold. This one and “Half Ass Monkey Boy” are of a piece, with “Monkey Boy” being even more primitive. Leading with a driving bass and guitar theme, each playing off the other, you can picture Wood leering all over the stage when he sings about giving his paramour “a plate of my beef swellington.”
The final track on the album, “Chloe Dancer / Crown of Thorns” is an epic in the best 70s rocker tradition at eight minutes and change. It’s Mother Love Bone’s “Stairway to Heaven,” by turns bombastic and introspective. About five minutes in there’s a glacial, feedback-laden, solo before launching back into the chorus.
If I had my way, Mother Love Bone would just be one of many Mother Love Bone albums in my collection. But we just have the one, so I suppose I’ll be thankful for that.