Mother Love Bone’s debut release, Apple, is historic for so many reasons and all of which must start with the sad tale of their visionary lead singer, Andrew Wood, who tragically passed of a heroin overdose just days prior to its scheduled release. To question ‘what could have been’ has such a troubling answer to ponder.
MLB was a part of the Seattle-based grunge scene, but they had that something extra that led them to be the first local band to sign with a major label. The hype was growing about these talented musicians featuring their dynamic frontman, a 90’s reincarnation of Robert Plant in tenor (slight) and Freddie Mercury (referenced in “Capricorn Sister”) in persona. Wood had an extremely overt confidence where his “Captain Hi-Top” star was destined to be born. Having written all the poignant lyrics on Apple, almost all are tied to Wood’s inner demon, heroin; yet, they are woven around hopeful desires of love, healing, and ambition.
The opening track, “This is Shangrila” features excerpts that encapsulate Wood’s future in a bitter quirk of fate. First the light: “… my crystal sheen guitar. I’m another ego star, so give it to me… get me to the stage – it brings me home again, this is shangrila.” Then the darkness: “I’m trippin on it now – it brings me home again… I don’t believe in smack, so don’t you die on me … music sets the sick ones free, without love no one ever grows, nothing ever sings, this is shangrila.” The spotlight of the stage was his Garden of Eden and his struggling temptation to “Come Bight the Apple” was all too much to overcome.
The album continues with a couple of anthemic classics in “Stardog Champion” and “Holy Roller,” the latter a portent of what lay ahead for future fans of Gossard and Ament. Wood shines again on “Bone China,” but again its lyrical meaning is sadly tied to his fascination with heroin as liberation. Musically it showcases the immense versatility this band possessed. The same can be said for “Gentle Groove” and especially “Stargazer,” which clearly shows Wood’s battle of affections for the high of drugs versus the love of his girlfriend who has left him due to his addiction: “she gets me higher than anyone, I miss her so, Stargazer you call the shots… oh Xana come back again.” “Heartshine” is the most powerful song rhythmically on Apple and continues to have thematic and metaphorical meanings tied to stars, love and healing. The love of music as a healer is no more prevalent than on the classic piano ballad “Man of Golden Words.” The entire album was on the cutting edge musically, impeccably produced, and lyrically profound.
Rarely does a record end with its best song, but “Crown of Thorns” – featured on the Singles soundtrack – is MLB’s signature composition and an eternal classic. “Talking to my Alter, Said, ‘Life is what you make it, And if you make it, death will rest your soul away…’” As emotional as this album is for those who know Mother Love Bone’s origin, this song is a chilling remembrance of their unfulfilled greatness. Apple is possibly the saddest triumph in rock history.
Andrew Wood died of a heroine over dose on March 19, 1990 at the age of 23. The extreme promise of Mother Love Bone was no longer, but their spirit would reincarnate in another form. Though Mother Love Bone’s legacy has been forlornly overshadowed, guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament went on to form the future Hall of Fame band, Pearl Jam. As for what could have been… there’s the redeeming part of your answer.
Reviewer: Bill Pulice
IRC: Steev Riccardo
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