March 20th, 1989, MOTHER LOVE BONE released their debut EP Shine through Stardog/Mercury Records. Mother Love Bone rose from the ashes of the break-up of three bands. In early 1988, Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament moved on after Green River were no more. Greg Gilmore and Duff McKagan left Seattle for LA in 1984 after the break-up of their band 10 Minute Warning. Gilmore quickly became disillusioned with the LA scene and returned to Seattle, eventually joining Mother Love Bone. McKagan remained in LA and joined Guns N’ Roses. Andrew Wood called time on Malfunkshun, a band that drew much attention in the Pacific Northwest mainly due to Wood’s larger-than-life stage persona.
In hindsight, Mother Love Bone’s Shine EP is a remarkable look at the crossing over of eras and the growth of its protagonists’ considerable skills as songwriters. Looking back, Stone and Jeff were already locking into place the signature sound that would bring them so much success later with Pearl Jam’s Ten. But what set Mother Love Bone apart was Andrew Woods’s delivery and lyrics.
The EP was recorded in November 1988 at London Bridge Studios in Seattle, Washington, with producer Mark Dearnley. Dearnley also mixed the EP, and Charles Peterson photographed the cover art. With the exception of the over eight-minute-long “Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns”, most of the songs here draw upon the band’s rawer side. Vocalist Andrew Wood’s dreamy lyrics are sung in a tenor reminiscent of Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant or The Cult’s Ian Astbury.
The EP starts with Thru Fade Away, opening with Jeff Ament’s pounding bass riff. It’s a sound that the band would refine further, but all the elements are in place immediately. This is the sound they would elaborate on with their debut album, Apple.
Mindshaker Meltdown follows. A perfect example of Mother Love Bone’s conundrum, the song sounds like a lost cut from a Faster Pussycat album rather than a band laying the groundwork for a new sound. It perfectly represents Mother Love Bone’s place in history as the bridge between the 80’s glam scene and the 90’s grunge era.
Half-Assed Monkey Boy is a funk rock epic. It’s got Stone Gossard’s groove riffing in spades and a middle eight breakdown that’s dark and heavy and not dissimilar to something Tad was churning out at the time before returning to the love rock funk and Andrew Wood’s relentless, energised scatting. All the while cementing the dichotomy of Mother Love Bones sound.
Then we get to Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns. By any standard, it is an incredible song. Its structure is two songs sequenced together. The “Crown of Thorns” section is found on the band’s sole studio album, Apple, released the following year in 1990. The “Chloe Dancer” section is not available as a stand-alone track. But married alongside Crown Of Thorns on the Shine EP, it’s perfection personified—a highwater mark for a scene that hadn’t happened yet.
Chloe Dancer/Crown Of Thorns is one of Mother Love Bone’s best songs. Jason Josephes of Pitchfork Media described it as “one astoundingly great song.” Steven Rosen of The Denver Post referred to the song as a “trancelike epic.” Spencer Patterson of the Las Vegas Sun comments that the song is “fantastically melancholy.”
Rolling Stone included the song in their “The Fifty Best Songs Over Seven Minutes Long” list. It was featured in director Cameron Crowe’s 1989 film “Say Anything…” but was not included in its soundtrack. The song rightly became prominent when featured on the soundtrack for Crowe’s 1992 film “Singles.” Exposing the band and this incredible song to a whole new audience unfamiliar with the fact that their new favourite band, Pearl Jam, had a backstory well worth checking out.
The Shine EP sold well and rapidly increased the hype surrounding the band. Mother Love Bone refined their sound even more with their debut album, Apple, in 1990. Ditching the overtly 80’s glam sound and, in doing so, becoming the bridge between what was and what was to come. Then tragedy struck.