Mother Love Bone: the story of Apple, one of rock’s great debut albums
It’s peculiar how a death can elevate a record to significant status. It’s sometimes deserved, but often it isn’t. Mother Love Bone’s debut album definitely falls into the former category. Released shortly after the death of singer Andrew Wood (of a heroin overdose), Apple had the double luxury of being something that had nothing to live up to and, more poignantly in the years that have passed since its release in 1990, that there could never be anything to follow it up that could detract from or sully its legacy.
These days Mother Love Bone are better known as the band that ultimately gave us Pearl Jam – MLB’s guitarist and bassist were Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament respectively. But remembering them just for that is to do massive disservice to a group that could have been so much more had cruel fate not intervened.
Essentially, Apple perfectly represents the state of flux that rock music found itself in as the 80s finally surrendered to the 90s. The big-hair and make-up contingent was on its way out, but the whole Nirvana-led grunge explosion was yet to happen. Seattle’s Mother Love Bone managed to straddle the middle ground between these two disparate genres.
Andrew Wood was the ultimate showman – he wasn’t averse to flamboyant dress and its associated behaviour. The self-proclaimed ‘Love God’ wanted to be a rock star, and was destined to be a rock star. He idolised Freddie Mercury (he even namechecks him in the boogie-rock ‘Capricorn Sister’), and by all accounts he aped Mercury’s over-the-top stage persona too, commanding an audience in a tiny downtown Seattle club as if he was playing to a filled-tocapacity Madison Square Garden. And you can hear that fervour on this album.
With swagger, grit and a voice that was part Axl Rose, part Steven Tyler and part something indefinable, Wood’s vocals lent the music a passion, a vigour and something that hadn’t been captured in radio-friendly rock for quite some time.
Whether it’s the kaleidoscopic soundscape of opener This Is Shangri-La, the plaintive piano of Crown Of Thorns or the strummed acoustic guitar of Stargazer, MLB walked the thin line between cutting-edge rock and evocative echoes from the past. There were enough glammy riffs and infectious choruses to appeal to those still entranced by Guns N’ Roses, while the idiosyncratic lyrics and sometimes off-kilter grooves were manna from heaven for the soon-to-begiven-a-label ‘grunge’ kids.
Simplistic touches add an element of class and originality to the record, be it the children’s choir of Stardog Champion, or the scorched ‘Love rock awaits you!’ proclamation on Holy Roller, a song that ridicules the concept of the television evangelist. Wood assumes the rôle and informs his audience that ‘those boys in Mother Love Bone, they know what’s right/ They’re good for you/They’re like soup. They’re like nothing bad…’ And he could not be more spot-on.
Following Wood’s death and the subsequent implosion of the band, the singular Temple Of The Dog project and Pearl Jam would rise phoenix-like from Mother Love Bone’s embers, proving once again that every cloud (no matter how dark) has its silver lining.