Mother Love Bone: Apple - Album Of The Week Club review

Apple bridged the end of hair metal and the beginning of grunge, but Mother Love Bone's one album will forever be associated with tragedy rather than transformation

Mother Love Bone - Lemon
(Image: © Lemon)

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Mother Love Bone - Apple

Mother Love Bone - Apple

(Image credit: Lemon)

This Is Shangrila
Stardog Champion
Holy Roller
Bone China
Come Bite the Apple
Captain Hi-Top
Man of Golden Words
Capricorn Sister
Gentle Groove
Mr. Danny Boy
Crown of Thorns

Andrew Wood sported the classic CV for an 80s hair-band frontman; his teenage obsession with stardom came after catching a Cheap Trick gig; he grew up on Kiss, Marc Bolan, David Bowie, Elton John and Prince. And he was a bitt of a mess. 

When he was in his first real band, Malfunkshun, his father had to hospitalise him with hepatitis contracted from infected junkies’ needles. His brother and bandmate Kevin remembers that, by 1985, he “had track marks up and down both arms”.

Malfunkshun’s contribution to a seminal Seattle compilation Deep Six, called With Yo Heart Not Yo Hands was about heroin and hepatitis. Wood felt that Malfunkshun, despite featuring his brother and also his best friend in drummer Regan Hagar, couldn’t provide the platform he sought, and he was tooling around Seattle giving the occasional solo performance on the side when Green River guitarist Stone Gossard really began to take notice of him.

By 1988, they had a band. Mother Love Bone included Wood, Gossard, bassist Jeff Ament, guitarist Bruce Fairweather and drummer Greg Gilmore. 

They wrote quickly and prolifically, producing trippy, sonic rock songs like Stardog Champion and Holy Roller, and epic statements of intent like Crown Of Thorns. Their manager, Kelly Curtis, and Jeff Ament somehow provoked a bidding war between most of the major labels, and the band signed to Polydor on November 19, 1988, in a seven-album deal.

Andrew Wood died of a heroin overdose on March 19, 1990. He had been clean for four months and was to be chaperoned by a new tour manager, another recovering addict, as Mother Love Bone began the big promo push for their debut full-length release, Apple.

He drove alone into downtown Seattle and scored. His girlfriend Xana found him in a coma on his bed some hours later, one fresh track-mark glistening on his forearm. He hung on via a life support system in the Habourview hospital for almost a week. but his family were told that in the unlikely event of the coma reversing itself, Wood would almost certainly be severely mentally handicapped following his brain’s deprivation of oxygen.

After three dreadful days, Wood’s family decided that his life-support system should be turned off, which it was as they, his band-mates and Xana surrounded his bed with lit candles and played A Night At The Opera, his favourite Queen album. He was 24.

Four months later, Apple was finally released.

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Other albums released in July 1990

  • Armchair Theatre - Jeff Lynne
  • Smooth Noodle Maps - Devo
  • The Hard Way - Steve Earle
  • Lights...Camera...Revolution! - Suicidal Tendencies
  • Seven Turns - The Allman Brothers Band
  • Spirits Dancing in the Flesh - Santana
  • 10 Brick by Brick - Iggy Pop
  • Flesh and Blood - Poison
  • Naked Thunder - Ian Gillan
  • Tales from the Twilight World - Blind Guardian
  • Cowboys from Hell - Pantera
  • Goodnight L.A. - Magnum
  • In the Heart of the Young - Winger
  • Un-Led-Ed - Dread Zeppelin
  • Bellybutton - Jellyfish

What they said...

"It's hard not to overstate how different rock music in 2016 would be if Seattle quintet Mother Love Bone had been able to make a second album. Their combination of Northwest grunge and runny-mascara glam sounded like a prediction of where hair metal, just beginning its decline in 1990, could go." (Rolling Stone)

"Albums like Dirt and Nevermind may be what everyone associates with grunge but it is truly mind boggling to imagine how it'd be seen if Apple had gotten its due. It offers a different sound when compared to the cliche and those put off by the dreary aesthetics may find this more appealing. But even if you don't buy into alternate history, it's just as great as the classics and has plenty of great songs that are worth checking out." (Sputnik Music

"Mother Love Bone were clearly Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith devotees, and it's hard to miss the influence of Zep's Robert Plant and Aerosmith's Steven Tyler when lead singer Andrew Wood tears into such intense yet melodic hard rock boogie as Capricorn Sister, Stardog Champion, and Captain Hi-Top. This was a band with great potential, but sadly, one can only speculate on what would have happened had it had a chance to develop." (AllMusic)

What you said...

James Praesto: Without progress we stand still. Something made that caveman knock two rocks together and change the world, right? We make sparks in the dark, and nothing is ever the same. In the micro-cosmos of music, similar catalytic events spawn new mutated genres and the empires of old ideas come crumbling down. Sometimes these things are subtle, and sometimes they are cataclysmic. We will leave to the wise anthropologists of the future to decide on the extent of the role Mother Love Bone played in the musical climate of the 90's, but I am going to make an educated guess and lean more towards the subtle impact.

To fully appreciate Apple, you kind of “had to be there”. Not that this album doesn’t have plenty of qualities for new listeners, but at the time of its release, things were in motion that is hard to feel the pulse of today. The LA metal scene was like a body in starvation, slowly consuming itself due to the lack of ideas and any willingness to change. This emaciated skeletal zombie still stalked the Sunset Strip, with frizzy hair sprayed to the skies and runny raccoon eyes, but the world knew it was dying, and held its breath in anticipation of where to turn next…

… and there it was…

Out of the emerging Seattle rock scene, Mother Love Bone claimed the prize of being the first of those bands signed to a major label, and basically kicked down the doors to let the others follow. Andrew Wood was a central character in the local rock scene, with swagger and charisma, and the tight network of bands and some of those musicians looked to him as their chosen one – the next Jim Morrison; the next Janis Joplin – someone to lead the way.

Apple kicks off with something straight out of what was pretty much an established sound at the time. The opening guitars could have been in the latest Winger video on Headbangers Ball; the sleazy verse operates in the traditional G’n’R universe and so far nobody is either offended or inspired. However, if you scratch the surface, you find lyrics much different than what passed for normal at the time. They are self-reflective, while still slightly less self-promoting, which was counter-intuitive to the louder than life hair metal scene.

Stardog Champion follows, and now it’s pretty obvious we are charting more classic 70’s rock territory, but with those layers of linear ringing guitar riffs so many grunge bands were to make popular for years to come. The children’s choir seeing the song out, lends it a vulnerable charm and an authenticity much missed for many years on the airwaves. Nobody knows what the fuck a Stardog Champion is, but it is a song about Wood and his relationship to his parents. Nobody sang about that stuff back then. At least nobody who people listened to. (Also, great name for a hockey team. Just saying.)

So many quality tracks follow on a string. Holy Roller, with its quacking wahs and free-form evangelist rants, and lyrics pretty much coming off like an ode to anal lovemaking that I have yet to really decipher the meaning off (unless the song is literally about that).

Bone China is the first true track setting the tone for a whole new genre of music. It’s laid back, in a smokey parlour, with Wood crooning about his love/hate relationship to his heroin addiction. The guitars are merely accents, and the eastern atmosphere envelops the track in a sweet lull of musical peace.

The middle of the album is choke full of little gems. Stargazer continues building that bridge from the dead ends of typical LA sleaze balladry, into more interesting and more complex rock territories, over some really dark and deep waters. The lyrics are a love letter to Andy’s girlfriend Xana, through the haze of a downward spiral of drug abuse. 

Heartshine is probably one of my favourite tracks on the album; the feverish pulse of the verse building up to the more animated chorus. You can close your eyes and see this performed live; it has that organic vibe you only get when there is a true musical dynamic in the band. Man of Golden Words has an ominous tone, leaning on the piano with somber chords and letting Wood expel his reflective lyrics about his “only” craft – the communication through words and music. Crown Of Thorns closes the album with acoustic guitars, shuffling drums, a spirited chorus and a promise of great things to follow… just not by this band.

Right before the release of the album Wood overdosed, and became another useless statistic in the prematurely dead rock star obituaries – so in that sense, he did emulate Morrison and Joplin, I guess. The album was released after his death, and just like with other artists who left this earth too early, the importance of the album may have been slightly exaggerated in the way it influenced his peers in Seattle at the time – but then also served as the much needed catalyst for those bands to aim higher. 

There were already plenty of bands making noise, but they had yet to break out into the mainstream. Chris Cornell of Soundgarden was so taken with the death of Wood that he started the project Temple of the Dog (named after a line in a Woods lyric) as a tribute to him, and enlisted Gossard to help him do the songs justice (who then later went with Pearl Jam). Alice in Chains wrote and dedicated their song Would? to Andrew as well..

Sometimes albums that are milestones in musical evolution are not that sensational in themselves. It may be that they represent a new idea, or maybe has a certain sound that others pick up and do better. What I appreciate about this album, as a (stardog) champion and harbinger of a musical genre I cannot stand, is that it built the bridge between two worlds – one dying, and one taking its first shuffles – on melodic arrangements over traditional classic rock, with deeper lyrics and a genuine approach to laying its heart bare for all to see. 

I have nothing but fond memories for the LA metal scene, but it was fake and loud, and although it served a certain purpose at the time, it was ready for a Kevorkian push, and, in a way, Mother Love Bone stepped and administered the dose. Apple helped me get closure on a dying scene that I had belonged to and loved, but also made me realise that all things come to pass.

Martyn Bass: Fantastic band a classic album and needs more attention than it does.

Jochen Scholl: A Milestone...the only Seattle Album that comes next to it is Temple Of The Dog.

Brian Carr: In more than two and a half years of this group, I’m not sure if I’ve seen a cover that made me vocally emote when I saw it. Such incredible songs came out of this tragically short lived band. 

The only challenge for me will be figuring out the difference between Apple and what I have, the Mother Love Bone album that collects (I believe) everything they recorded.

Quentin Toussaint: Just the best Ever. Perfect combination of different styles. And then Chloe Dancer.

Colin Livesey: Wonderful album.

John Davidson: This is the missing link between LA rock and the Seattle sounds of the 90s and despite my flirtation with Nevermind, Dirt, Ten and Superunknown I had never gone back to look at this – the progenitor of them all.

There is a sinewy beat to the album opener This Is Shangrila. The guitars and vocals curl around one another and carry on in to the start of Star Dog Champion before it opens up into grooving stoner soundscape. You can practically smell the weed and the sweat that went into making these songs.

Holy Roller has more LA in it, with its squawking solos and harder riff, but the delivery is gentler (and in my view) better sung than the histrionic vocals more typical of the GN'R clones.

Bone China is that slow burn mournful rocker of the type that Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament would reproduce with Pearl Jam. Come Bite the Apple is a straight up rocker, while Stargazer has a languid, almost Zeppish feel to it. Heartshine and Captain Hi Top continue in that mould sounding like fans of The Cult and Captain in particular shows off the grooving basslines that Ament would continue into the better Pearl Jam songs.

Man Of Golden Words is a powerful “stoner” ballad and one of the highlights of the album. Capricorn Sister is another grooving rocker with a surging chorus and a fine one at that. Another highlight of the album is Gentle Groove. The main refrain is piano rather than guitar led, but it still broods with restrained power.

Mr Danny Boy returns the mood to the more upbeat, funky guitar contortions that characterise much of the album before the closer Crown Of Thorns brings the mood down for one final time with its soulful reflections and lingering guitar refrains.

This is the birth of the Seattle sound, though not yet grunged up or clothed in checked shirts these songs set the tone, with sombre love songs and thinly veiled poetry about the lure of heroin.

Overall this is a fantastic album, it grooves you and it moves you and it’s a damn crying shame that Andrew Wood didn’t win the battle with drugs and didn’t live to enjoy the fruits of his labour or make another record of this quality.

I’m only sorry it took me 30 years to hear it.

Chris McGlyn: Oh my word. I remember the day this album came out. I was managing the Our Price store in Bangor North Wales at the time. So I was able to play it over the weekend prior to its Monday release day. It was right as the funk-metal sound was peaking when suddenly this landed. It arrived shrouded in the mystery/tragedy of the death of lead singer Andrew Wood prior to release.

The first time I played This Is Shangrila, it just struck me. "What is this?" It didn't sound like anything I'd heard before. On Captain Hightop, "How are those guitars playing over each other but still making the song work?"

Andy Wood just sounded like the superstar lead singer he was due to be, but that we would never see.

It's just a quality album that stands on its own, but ushered in the sound that came to be known as 'grunge' (while actually sounding unlike the other bands) and for me, both Apple and Temple Of The Dog (inspired by the death of Andrew Wood) remain the best output from the musicians who then created Pearl Jam.

A classic album. No question.

Greg Smith" Simply put its a gem. Underrated in so many ways. Compass point for an entire scene. Stargazer.....yeah. Andy was the ringmaster of a total vibe. One can feel the Seattle gloom even in the brightest moments.

Hylton Blignaut: Bone China, Chloe Dancer, Man of Golden Words ... 'nuff sed. One of my enduring favourite albums.

Jessica Jardine: 10/10 . One of a kind.

Jonathan Novajosky: This was an interesting one, but an album I started enjoying the further into it I got. Apple wasn't as heavy as I thought it would be, and there was a nice mixture of softer songs thrown in like Stargazer, Man Of Golden Words, and Crown Of Thorns. I really like some of the background vocals here – they brought an energetic feel to a lot of the songs with my favourite being Come Bite The Apple. A good new choice for the week. 7.5/10

Hai Kixmiller: Mother Love Bone's debut album, Apple is an unremarkable offering. Other than the vocal theatrics and interesting lyrics presented by Andrew Wood, along with a couple of standout tracks, Apple is just a collection of too many mediocre songs.

I think the appeal of Apple stems from the inability to really label the band and their music. In 1990, Mother Love Bone were a rising force right in the epicenter of a tumultuous and changing music scene. Hair metal is in decline, alternative rock is making some major noise. In one year grunge will explode out of the alleys and gutters of Seattle and take its place as king of the rock market. Mother Love Bone doesn't really fit into a genre. Some songs greatly reflect the influences of Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith. Other songs inspire comparisons to The Cult and Jane's Addiction. There are shades of GN'R's Appetite For Destruction and funky hints of Red Hot Chilli Peppers' Mother's Milk. Apple is literally a musical buffet of 70s and 80s music which just gets too convoluted for my taste.

I personally don't care for the album Apple. But, I can't deny the talent and abilities of Mother Love Bone nor the significance of the band's influence on other major Seattle bands. The tragic loss of Andrew Wood will forever force the interrogative, "what if?". What if Andrew had lived, what would the music scene of the 90s sounded like? Would Grunge have had its impact in a world without Pearl Jam? These are interesting ideas to muse about but the reality is that out of the ashes of Mother Love Bone there arose some of the best rock music of a generation.

Mother Love Bone were the forerunners of grunge, the harbinger of flannel, and the precursors of heroin tragedies.

To me, Apple may have been a bit bland and not very sweet, but it was a very pivotal record. But for its fans, it shined fiercely like a shooting star, its brilliance fleeting but its lustre still glowing.

Iain Macaulay: I came to Mother Love Bone backwards. By that I mean, from Soundgarden to Temple of the Dog to Mother Love Bone. I bought the album thinking, this should be really good due to its history and the pedigree of the musicians. Even although I am not a Pearl Jam fan.

Now, while I absolutely love Temple of the Dog, I originally thought Mother Love Bone to be just a standard, barroom, funky, sleazy, psychedelic band, not too far removed from The Cult and GN’R, even Bang Tango in places, with a smattering of Jane's Addiction thrown in for good measure. At that time I felt quite underwhelmed listening to it. A case of been there, heard that, what was all the fuss about? You can hear Jeff Ament experimenting with what would become that Pearl Jam style in the music too, especially on Come Bite the Apple. Which made me think, so?

It took a number of months and a few curious return listens to come at it objectively and really hear it.

It’s not a perfect album by any means. But then, very few first albums are. Yet the more you get into it the better it gets, the more the style starts to form and the songwriting pulls together and really begs the question, could a second album have really done it for them? Among so many others.

There is no denying this is a massive piece of alternative musical history. Not unlike that of Joy Division’s Closer. By that I mean, another album by a revered band that was set to propel them into the stratosphere but for the singers untimely death. Or, does that make it more of a curiosity piece because it wasn’t given the chance to develop?

Whatever your view, I like the album now. There is so much to latch onto across the whole listening experience and the diversity of songs shows how the grunge scene developed, all in one album. Full on groove rockers, aggressive dark hitters, dreamy psych jams and intelligent acoustic playing. Songs for everyone.

Mike Knoop: Like previous club pick, King's X's Gretchen Goes to Nebraska, I picked up Apple while in music stores several times, but it never quite made it to the cash register for some reason.

As telegraphed by the album cover, singer Andrew Wood is the whooshing, whooping focal point and an unrepentant rock star in the making. The free association lyrics don’t make a lot of sense but sure sound cool when howled out. In the music, I can hear both Sonic Temple-era Cult and what would become Pearl Jam – I’m pretty sure that's the song Even Flow hiding in Heartshine.

I also hear a lot of the mighty Led Zeppelin in a way that wasn’t fetishised as it was by metal bands like Kingdom Come or 80s-era Whitesnake. Most of all, Mother Love Bone seemed to pay attention to Zep’s “light and shade.” Chest beaters like Holly Roller, Captain Hi-Top, and Capricorn Sister balance well with more meditative pieces like Stargazer, Man Of Golden Words, and Gentle Groove. That's an oversimplification for brevity because the dynamics within the songs are outstanding as well.

What I don’t like about Mother Love Bone is not their fault, and that’s their exalted place in music history. This is alternative rock with 30/70 balance between the first and second word. There’s nothing wrong with that and it was worlds better than the increasingly stale sounds coming from the Sunset Strip; but bands like the Jane’s Addiction, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Seattle brethren Soundagarden were already doing more for this segment of the coming Alternative Nation than Apple ever would just on its own. And that's just naming the bands already on major labels. The death of Andrew Wood begat Temple of the Dog which begat Pearl Jam, and that's when heads started to swivel. If we ever meet in a bar, don’t even get me started on Nirvana.

But’s that all just fussin’ over one mythology versus another. I love that Andrew Wood namechecks both his own band and Freddie Mercury in Capricorn Sister. I love that he quotes Muhammad Ali in Bone China. I love the kids’ voices that sing us out of Stardog Champion. And any album with group sung “woohoos” is worth more than a few listens.

Bill Griffin: Of the albums reviewed in here that I've never heard before, this might be the first one I've thoroughly enjoyed. It is a great album.

Carl Black: A very sufficient album in the history of grunge and modern rock music. Things could have turned out a lot different. Pearl Jam's early material is perfect in many ways and that could all have been lost if Mother Love Bone had continued. I still want the guy on the plant, it was a sad day when he died. I'm just making the point that life is full of happy (and sad) accidents. What would MLB gone onto produce? What would Eddie Vedder have done? I can hear a lot of the building blocks to Ten on this record but its in the more sentimental and slower songs that truly get my interest. The more rocky songs sound like a second rate Chilli Peppers crossed with Faster Pussycat. Its a good album but not a great one with some peaks and some troughs.

Brian Carr: Almost without fail I’m not in favour of classifying music. As with every human being with ears, some music resonates with me and some doesn’t. Putting music in categories is almost as bad as putting people in categories, often making them easy to stereotype and dismiss, rather than give a person/artist/album/song a chance to share their unique story with the world. Mother Love Bone gets labeled ‘grunge’ because of their city of origin and the bands that preceded and followed. In reality, Apple has as many differences to the ‘genre’ than similarities.

The nineties music scene coincided with my music retail days and though I loved the majority of eighties hard rock (and still do) there was plenty from the Pacific Northwest that I liked just fine. Enough that I caught the movie Singles in the theatre and bought the soundtrack. I’m fairly certain that was my introduction to Mother Love Bone; that album contains the beautifully glorious Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns. At some point the song moved me to check out the Mother Love Bone CD that combined Apple with their Shine EP (Or I heard it first - who the hell can really remember that long ago?). 

I do know that I loved it immediately, particularly the opener This is Shangrila and all of the ballads. I learned to play and sing Stargazer at one point, I dug it so much. The more I listened, the more the rockers gained traction on my musical palate. The songs have groove and beauty and the guitar interplay is excellent. But even more, I loved Andrew Wood’s quirky but melodic voice. It absolutely resonated with me and still does. Wood grew up in the seventies and loved Elton John and Kiss (he wore full face paint in his prior band Malfunkshun); this influence shows in his delivery and the songs, and could be why I like it so much. Apple almost certainly isn’t a perfect album, but it’s a 10 for me personally.

Side note: I watched Malfunkshun: The Andrew Wood Story again tonight before writing. Fascinating and heartbreaking and absolutely worth watching.

Final Score: 7.44⁄10 (96 votes cast, with a total score of 715)

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