Tuesday, April 27, 2010

CD of the Day: 13 Days of Pearl Jam

On May 13 I'll attend my 13th Pearl Jam concert. So for the next 13 (week)days, I'm going back through the PJ catalog to get myself ready for the show. Starting with …

‘Temple of the Dog,’ Temple of the Dog (1991)

This one-off album is famous because it features Pearl Jam members before they even were “Pearl Jam”—with Chris Cornell on lead vocals and—in a come-full-circle moment—eventual PJ drummer Matt Cameron (then with Soundgarden). It was released to little fanfare in 1991 but broke huge a year later once Pearl Jam and Soundgarden started dominating modern rock radio.

As famous as it is, I wonder how many fans actually listen to this album all that much anymore. I don’t.

“Temple of the Dog” was recorded quickly in honor of a dead friend, and it’s fascinating to try and pick out the mergent sounds of two iconic bands. In general I’d say this CD leans more toward Soundgarden than Pearl Jam, and not just because Cornell sings lead; “Your Savior,” for instance, is a dead-on Soundgarden cut, while “Say Hello 2 Heaven” features a Mike McCready solo that would fit perfectly on “Ten.” “Pushin’ Forward Back” and “Hunger Strike” are the most equally balanced—no shock, I guess, that these are my two favorites on the disc.

More than anything, though, “Temple of the Dog” is an outpouring of emotion in light of Mother Love Bone frontman Andrew Wood’s death—pain, sadness, anger, mystification. Such a raw undertaking is bound to have some highs and lows.

Let’s start with the best stuff. Of course there’s “Hunger Strike,” the mid-tempo anthem and only track on this disc to feature one Eddie Vedder on lead vocals. The song is an icon of 1990s rock—you know it right from that first guitar melody. Other choice cuts include opener “Say Hello 2 Heaven,” hard-rocking “Pushin’ Forward Back,” and ballad “Times of Trouble” (whose core riff also became PJ’s “Footsteps”). I also like a bit of the bluesy, twangy music on here in “Call Me A Dog” and “All Night Thing.”

My overriding complaint about “Temple of the Dog” is simple: The songs are way too long. The biggest offender is “Reach Down” at more than 11 minutes (!!!), but “Four Walled World” (6:54), “Say Hello 2 Heaven” (6:24), and “Times of Trouble” (5:43) could’ve used some trimming, too. Many of the tracks feel a bit generic, shapeless, and lack focus. Though it’s only 10 cuts long, “TOTD” clocks in at nearly an hour, making a once-through listen tough to survive.

Looking back with the perspective that only two decades can provide, “Temple of the Dog” is an over-praised CD. It’s definitely important to the history of Pearl Jam and worth an occasional listen, but in general the songs here aren’t as exciting as anything the group’s contributing members created in their respective bands.

Grade: B

Favorite Track: “Hunger Strike”

Least Favorite Track: “Wooden Jesus”

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