Mother Love Bone - On Earth As It Is: The Complete Works reissue album review

Band’s brilliant sole album, now with a wealth of delightful added extras

Mother Love Bone band photograph

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Seattle’s Mother Love Bone may be best recognised today as the band that gave us Pearl Jam – MLB’s guitarist and bassist were Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament – but thinking of them in just those terms is to do a massive disservice to a group that could have been so much more had fate not so cruelly intervened.

Like life, rock’n’roll is full of what-ifs and maybes, and Mother Love Bone is one such hypothetical. What might have happened if frontman Andy Wood hadn’t succumbed to his heroin addiction and tragically OD’d shortly before the release of his band’s debut album? In an alternative universe, MLB are surely a globe-straddling megaband, Pearl Jam don’t exist and there was no cause for Wood’s friends and bandmates to work through their grief with the cathartic Temple Of The Dog album.

In this universe, however, Mother Love Bone left us with one perfect album. The original Apple LP succinctly encapsulated the state of flux that rock found itself in as the 80s finally surrendered to the 90s. Big hair, spandex and flamboyance was reaching its implosion point, but Nirvana’s flannel-shirted revolution wasn’t yet in full flow. Apple had sufficient glammy riffs and radio-friendly choruses to appeal to those still enthralled by GN’R, while the lyrics and clattering grooves were enough to satisfy those who would soon find a new rock’n’roll saviour in Kurt Cobain.

On Earth As It Is is a three-CD, one-DVD fan’s delight. Apple is included here in its entirety, along with the Shine EP, but it’s the extra material that makes this set so essential. With nearly two dozen recordings that include rare B-sides, demos, alternative versions and unreleased songs, we’re afforded not only a peek into what might have been, but also an insight into the evolution of what was.

The different takes are enlightening – Holy Roller with its more skittery vocal from Wood, less pronounced backing vocals, looser arrangement and a conclusion with possibly the best use of the word ‘succulent’ in music history; Wood’s plaintive demo of Chloe Dancer; a sparser take of Bone China is like seeing an early photo of someone you know well but they don’t look quite like themselves. Previously unreleased highlights include Lubricated Muscle Drive – nothing if not Holy Roller’s filthy cousin – and Showdown, an epic off-kilter slow burn.

All in all, this is a reissue as reissues ought to be done. A brilliant and familiar album remastered to perfection and bolstered by plenty of legitimately unheard material. Heavenly indeed.

Classic Rock editor Siân has been an obsessive music nerd for as long as she can remember. Has a pathological hatred of people turning the rock canon into jukebox musicals.