Temple of the Dog was a one-off project which was started when Soundgarden's Christ Cornell and Matt Cameron hooked up with Mother Love Bone members Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard, as well the then-unknown vocalist Eddie Vedder and guitarist Mike McCready. Some of these members would later go on to form Pearl Jam and upon releasing their highly acclaimed debut Ten, this would also reflect on the sales of Temple of the Dog, parachuting the release to platinum status.
This is a tribute to the late Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood who died of an overdose and happened to be a close friend of Cornell's. Cornell is the primary songwriter on the album and all his lyrics mourn Wood's death or were inspired by stories of loss and addiction. The first two tracks, "Say Hello 2 Heaven" and "Reach Down", are also the strongest pieces. Not only do they display Cornell's amazing vocal talents, they are also very well-written and powerful compositions. "Say Hello 2 Heaven" would become one of the album's hits and is to this day considered among Cornell's best moments. The elegiac blues guitars and mournful vocals pull at the heart strings and when Cornell's uncontrolled screaming induces goose bumps. "Reach Down" is over eleven minutes, but you never know how fast it's over. The bass is more prominent on this piece and Cornell delivers the lyrics like a blues singer. There is an extensive instrumental section, allowing Cameron's drums to stand out together with the duelling guitars playing off each other, and abusing the wah pedal. The song's climax is the final second, suggesting not a single second of the piece is overplayed nor wasted.
The song that pushed the album to the charts was "Hunger Strike", featuring Eddie Vedder on backing vocals. Even though Vedder sings on a total of three songs on this album, his work on "Hunger Strike" is the most noticeable. His expressive tenor voice does a great job complementing Cornell's more throaty and bluesy singing. The duo particularly shine during the chorus and the vocal harmonies are both amazing and emotive. The guitar melody that supplements their singing is also among the best on this disc. Interestingly, "Call Me a Dog" is severely overlooked by some fans even though it is another standout number. Complete with hammering blues piano, elegiac guitar themes, and heart-wrenching vocals, the song also features a very moving solo at the end. "Times of Trouble" follows in a similar vein, addressing addiction as its subject matter, and featuring both piano and harmonica to add more texture.
This being a tribute album lamenting the loss of a close friend, most of the songs are slow and bleak. Highlighted by plenty of blues licks and melancholic vocals, none of the songs are as heavy as some of the stuff on Soundgarden or Pearl Jam albums. However, there are still a couple of tracks where the band churns out some rocking leads and rhythms. The somewhat funky bass on "Pushin Forward Back", one of the few tracks with contribution from other members, is relatively more melodic and fast-paced, but how well it fits the flow of the album is questionable. Same goes for "Your Savior", another piece with Vedder on backing harmonies (hardly audible though), solid drum and bass rhythms and weird, and unusual vocal harmonies. Other highlights include the percussion on "All Night Thing"; the intense "Wooden Jesus" where Cornell questions the impact of religion on the individual; and the heartfelt ballad "Four Walled World", with more ripping screams at its finale.
Even though far from being a pure grunge release, Temple of the Dog is a historically significant release both in that it helped spawn the Seattle scene and proved how powerful music can be if written in the right mindset. Cornell has never sung like this again, nor have we heard Vedder or McCready play with so much emotion. Goes to show some things can never be recreated, and that's what makes this album so special.
- Say Hello 2 Heaven
- Reach Down
- Hunger Strike
- Pushin Forward Back
- Call Me a Dog
- Times of Trouble
- Wooden Jesus
- Your Savior
- Four Walled World
- All Night Thing