Friday, July 13, 2012

Grunge Part I: Mother Love Bone, Apple

Grungy Graph

Tom Moon's 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die has a lot of music I enjoyed long before I read about it in his book. Most of it is stuff I heard my dad listening to when I was a kid: classic rock like Zeppelin and Creedence; some is from the late '90s/early 2000s and would fall under "indie," representing the end of high school and college, when I was discovering lots of new music. 

The time when music meant the most to me, though, and I think a time when it means the most to many people, was during my preteen and teen years, in the mid-'90s. As an angsty, suburban teenager I shunned the East Coast/West Coast battle happening in rap, gagged when I saw bumper stickers for 99.5, Cleveland's country station, and latched solidly to "alternative." By the time I was buying my own CDs and changing the dial on the radio to hear what I wanted to hear (moving from the "Golden Oldies" station to "107.9 The End"), the first wave of grunge had long since washed over the country. Kurt Cobain committed suicide just as I was discovering his music: while some kids were wearing commemorative t-shirts to school and crying over the loss, I was just trying to figure out who the guy was. I was rocking out to Filter, Bush,  and Rage Against the Machine and while I also listened to Pearl Jam and Nirvana, I was completely oblivious to the fact that they were the pioneers of the music I loved (alternative, not grunge per se).

As I mentioned in my interview with Mark Yarm, author of the amazing oral history of grunge, Everybody Loves Our Town, I was still oblivious to the bands that came before Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Mother Love Bone was a band whose name was vaguely familiar, but who I had never heard anything by. When I read Yarm's book I hadn't yet gotten to the "M's" in Moon's book, so I flipped ahead and pulled up Apple. I was more than surprised by what I heard... and not really in a good way.

Artist: Mother Love Bone
Album: Apple
Recording #518

This was the band that was supposed to break Seattle into the consciousness of the rest of America? What does this have to do with grunge? Mother Love Bone, to my ears, shares more with Guns N Roses than Pearl Jam. Of course, to the ears of a guy I work with who is about five years older than me, "That's totally Jeff [Ament] and Stone [Gossard]," who eventually went on to form Pearl Jam. So I pulled it up again.

Yes, lead singer Andrew Wood has a hair metal/glam rock style that I wasn't expecting, but the riffs backing him up are the prototype of the type of arena rock Pearl Jam would perfect. And Wood is nothing if not entertaining (again, get Yarm's book to learn about Wood's interesting, and unfortunately tragic, life). The song "Holy Roller" is an example of how good Wood could be in his frontman role, and an example of how different from "typical" grunge they sound. "Stardog Champion" and "Bone China" could almost be PJ songs, though: they would need new lyrics, less reverb on the drums and, obviously, Eddie Vedder mumbling, but there is something familiar in there. 

By the second time through the album, I got past my own expectations and enjoyed the album for what it is. Although it sounds dated to me (as Nirvana does to Foo Fighter fans- I'm not making that up, look in the comments section of any FF or Nirvana video on YouTube) it's a better listen than most anything else from the time period. If you're a alt-rock or '80s rock fan who hasn't heard this, give it a shot. This album bridges a gap between those two periods.

Read Moon's entry here.

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  1. Thanks man. I had fun making it, and was actually surprised to learn Soundgarden was the first of all these bands. I'm still trying to come up with some ideas for the rest of the posts