Review Summary: Do you like Pearl Jam and/or Soundgarden? Well then you should like this.
Temple of the Dog was a strange entity; its members came from two of the most successful rock bands of the nineties, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, yet it would be incorrect to call them a supergroup, since every one of those members was a virtual unknown at the time of the band’s only release. This eponymous album was written primarily by Chris Cornell as a tribute to Andrew Wood, the lead singer of the glam rock band Mother Love Bone, who died of a heroin overdose in March of 1990. The rest of the line-up was rounded out by Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron, guitarist Stone Gossard, and bassist Jeff Ament, the latter two being former members of Mother Love Bone and future members of Pearl Jam. The album was originally released in December of 1990, but it did not chart until 1992 when the record label decided to reap some benefits from Soundgarden and Pearl Jam’s recent commercial breakthroughs.
The music itself is surprisingly good, when you really think about the situation. The band was only together for a few months, but you never get the feeling that these guys were unfamiliar or uncomfortable playing with each other, whereas another Cornell project, Audioslave, took three albums to truly, successfully fuse the different styles of its members. Most surprisingly though is Chris Cornell, who up to this point had only played metal music. Superunknown was a long way in the future when this was made, but he managed to write ten songs, all of which were influenced by bluesy seventies rock, with very few traces of metal influence.
In fact, the band hardly ever rocks out, with the exception of the eleven minute epic, “Reach Down,” the hyper “Pushing Forward Back,” and “Your Savior,” the music is very much light. Ballads abound, most notably on the opener, “Say Hello 2 Heaven,” which is possibly the greatest vocal performance of Chris Cornell’s career, and “Hunger Strike,” the most known Temple of the Dog song, which features Eddie Vedder singing alongside Cornell, with results as great as they should be. While the mostly softer music might not sound appealing to some grunge fans, it is really what makes this record great. The heavier tracks are okay, but none are highlights, and they feel forced at times, while the lighter music is on a higher level lyrically and musically, and feel more appropriate on an album that is a tribute to someone who passed away.
The playing on the album is top notch, as is to be expected with such talented musicians, but Temple of the Dog is not about the playing, it is about the vocals. Cornell wails and soars as he always has, but he is much more controlled on this record, keeping it soulful and never approaching the screams that can be heard on Soundgarden albums. The combined performances from all ten songs equate to the best vocal album that Cornell has ever recorded, and a strong rival to Jeff Buckley’s Grace for best vocal album of the decade.
A surprising number of people who are fans of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam are unfamiliar with Temple of the Dog, and it is a shame, because it easily ranks amongst the best albums that the group’s members have recorded, and even the best grunge albums period. Many albums like this made by other musicians are really gimmicky and only of interest to die-hard fans, but this is a well made, focused record that really can appeal to any fan of good rock music.