Temple Of The Dog (A&M ’90) Rating: A-
A one-off side project put together by members of Soundgarden (Chris Cornell, Matt Cameron) and a group of guys who would soon form the core of Pearl Jam (Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, Mike McCready, Eddie Vedder), Temple Of The Dog is a much overlooked early ‘90s gem. The dominant force on the album is Chris Cornell, who writes all the lyrics and most of the music. However, equally important to the album is the spirit of Cornell’s former roommate and ex-Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood, for Temple Of The Dog is nothing if not a tribute to their former friend (Ament and Gossard were also in Mother Love Bone), who had recently died from a heroin overdose. As such, it’s fitting that mournful, evocative power ballads such as “Say Hello 2 Heaven” and “Hunger Strike” form the heart of the album. The latter song became a minor hit, and it was many listener’s introduction to the then unknown Vedder. However, although Vedder delivers a beautifully controlled performance, as with every song here it is Cornell’s awe-inspiring vocal wail that steals the show, as he makes a convincing case for himself being the best hard rock vocalist since (and maybe even including) Robert Plant. The album has a loose, jam-based mellower vibe and a powerful sense of understatement that I wish Soundgarden had pursued more (though it's tough to really criticize that amazing band too much). And though it meanders at times and has a couple of lesser songs on side two (like most albums this one is frontloaded), several impressive album tracks (including “Pushin’ Forward Back,” “Call Me A Dog,” “Times Of Trouble,” and “All Night Thing”) and sizzling extended guitar solos (the epic 11-minute "Reach Down" and the also-epic near 7-minute “Four Walled World”) help make this moody album a powerfully felt, grieving grunge rock classic.