April 16th, 1991, Temple Of The Dog released their self-titled album on A&M Records. One tragic event is all it took. Andrew Wood’s death on March 19th 1990, altered the trajectory of the Seattle music scene profoundly. Wood’s passing splintered all possible outcomes in kaleidoscopic directions. It not only changed the outcome of the Seattle scene but also had a significant effect on music culture worldwide in the coming years. Had Wood not passed, it’s almost certain Temple Of The Dog wouldn’t exist, Pearl Jam would have never formed, Jerry Cantrell wouldn’t have penned the Alice In Chains hit Would? One could spend hours working out the permutations.

Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell had lived with Wood in the late 80’s. They became fast friends and pushed each other to new heights of creativity. In a 2015 interview, Cornell said of his relationship with Wood: “I don’t know if you can ever take him out of my heart and soul. There was a period when he would sit in his bedroom across the hall from mine, and we would have these duelling four-track demos and songs. He wasn’t doing it for Malfunkshun, and I wasn’t doing it for Soundgarden; it had nothing to do with that. It was us just having fun.”

Creativity is profoundly personal; how artists tap into their wellspring of artistry is often wildly different. Just as music inspires, so can an artist’s approach to creation. Chris Cornell was an entirely different creative animal from Andrew Wood but took influence from his approach.

“Maybe you can look at it as a songwriting exercise?” Cornell explained, “We were always neck and neck. We were very different from each other in terms of our approach. He was very free and didn’t necessarily have a critical voice while he was in the process of writing a song. He would do anything. I on the other hand,” admitted Cornell,” “not only do I have a critical voice, I have sort of an editorial staff and what that creates is something kind of completely different”

Chris added, “He would do these amazing free things that felt, almost to the degree of just being dangerous in a way, because it was so free and unself-conscious,” Cornell reminisced. I would think, ‘How do you do that?’ We would always observe each other. That’s sort of like what I would equate to early college years; that doesn’t go away. Those experiences never stop being a part of who you are and how you think.”

After Wood’s death in 1990, Cornell threw himself into the grieving process in the only way he saw fit and, frankly, knew how: by writing music for his friend. He approached Wood’s Mother Love Bone bandmates Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament to help him flesh out the songs he was working on.

Stone and Jeff’s world had been turned upside down in the wake of Andrew’s death. They had a brilliant debut album ready with Mother Love Bone, a major label supporting them, a great band, and a diamond frontman. Then, just weeks before Polygram was due to release their album, tragedy struck.

Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron was also recruited to the Temple Of The Dog fold, followed by (then) newcomers Mike McCready on lead guitar and Eddie Vedder. Cornell added McCready and Vedder to the project due to their involvement with Ament and Gossard’s next project, which became Pearl Jam. While Eddie Vedder’s participation is minimal, singing backing vocals on three songs and co-lead vocals on one track, his presence is profound. Mike McCready also announces himself as a force to be reckoned with with each searing guitar phrase and solo.

The name Temple of the Dog is derived from the opening lyrics of the Mother Love Bone song “Man of Golden Words”: “I wanna show you something, like joy inside my heart. Seems I’ve been living in the Temple of the Dog.”

Sessions took place from November to December 1990 at London Bridge Studios in Seattle, Washington. Recorded in just fifteen days by the band and producer Rick Parashar, who also engineered, mixed, and played piano. Two songs on the album, “Reach Down” and “Say Hello 2 Heaven”, were directly written in response to Wood’s death, while Cornell wrote other songs with re-workings of demos written by Gossard and Ament.

“Say Hello To Heaven” opens the album, and we’re immediately met with a side of Chris Cornell that the world hadn’t seen up to that point. By Temple Of The Dog’s release in April 1991, Soundgarden had yet to release Badmotorfinger. The full-on assault of Ultramega OK and Louder Than Love was still ringing in the ears of their ever-growing fanbase. On “Say Hello To Heaven”, we hear Cornell bare his soul on what must be one of the most heartfelt and heartbreaking performances written for a fallen friend in all of rock.

What poured from the band and Cornell was beyond labels, beyond grunge and alternative rock; this cut right to the heart of the human condition. The band also showed a dexterity and looseness that belied their young years, delivering a soulful, heartfelt triumph.

“Reach Down” is a tour de force for newbie Mike McCready. The song’s rolling riff is magnetic in its simplicity but executed with a raw, unbridled passion. Cornell majestically soars on the chorus refrain, “You gotta reach down, and pick the crowd up, Carry back in my hand, to the promised land, to the promised land,” this couplet epitomised Andrew Wood’s passion for live performance and striving for celestial meaning.

The song’s outro is a titanic five-minute guitar workout from McCready. Maybe sensing his newness to the situation while recording and unsure of his place and how far he could take things, Cornell said of McCready: “You almost kind of had to yell at him to get him to realise that in the five-and-a-half-minute solo of ‘Reach Down’, that was his time and that he wasn’t going to be stepping on anybody else.” And Mike took heed, delivering a face-melting performance that only elevates the sense of loss.

Cornell wrote the first single, “Hunger Strike,” which has since become iconic. It features a duet between him and then new-to-the-scene vocalist Eddie Vedder. Cornell recalled: “When we started rehearsing the songs, I had pulled out “Hunger Strike”, and I felt it would just be filler; it didn’t feel like a real song. Eddie was sitting there in the studio, waiting for a Mookie Blaylock (Pearl Jam’s name before they came up with Pearl Jam) rehearsal, and I was singing parts, and he kind of humbly, but with some balls, walked up to the mic and started singing the low parts for me because he saw it was kind of hard. We got through a couple of choruses of him doing that, and suddenly, the light bulb came on in my head; this guy’s voice is amazing for these low parts. History wrote itself after that, and it became the single.”

“Hunger Strike” was Vedder’s first featured vocal on a record, and no matter how many times one hears his distinctive baritone enter for the song’s second verse, it’s impossible not to feel your hair stand on end. His and Cornell’s voices match beautifully as they bob and weave around each other during the song’s emotional climax.

“Pushin’ Forward Back” opens with Stone Gossard’s groove-laden rhythmic guitar sting. Ament, McCready, and Cameron fall in with a towering, heavily swinging rock beat. The verses sink into the kind of elliptical, off-centre riff patterns the Seattle scene excelled at, laying a foundation for Cornell to take flight. Eddie Vedder can be heard adding backing vocals to the song’s chorus. The middle eight breaks into a savage funk grove before McCready spits rapid-fire, wah-drenched volleys of incendiary lead lines as Cornell matches with some explosive upper-register vocal blasts.

“Call Me A Dog” is a mournful, soulful jazz/blues track that could have easily caused Cornell/Soundgarden fans to scratch their heads at the time. In hindsight, the contrary happened; the song is so masterful in composition and delivery that it leaves the listener in no doubt that what they are listening to is art in its purest form, genre be damned. Hearing Cornell reach into the deepest parts of his soul like this was cathartic and new, and he delivered it with such conviction and passion it rendered anything but an awed reaction futile.

The story of “Times Of Trouble” is fascinating. Stone Gossard wrote the song’s music. It was part of the three-song “demo” tape he and Jeff Ament sent to a prospective new singer in San Diego called Eddie Vedder. After Vedder received that tape, he quickly wrote lyrics and melodies to send back to Seattle. In the meantime, Stone gave that same music to Chris Cornell, who also began working on lyrics and melodies.

Chris wrote “Times Of Trouble,” while Eddie wrote “Footsteps.” Hearing how two of the greatest singers and writers of the ’90s tackle the same piece of music, utterly unbeknownst to each other’s efforts, is enthralling. The fact that both versions are equally beautiful and powerful is a testament to each man’s vocal, lyrical and performance prowess. “Footsteps” became a Pearl Jam B-side, even though it could have easily sat on Ten or V’s. Meanwhile, “Times Of Trouble” sits elegantly on the Temple Of The Dog album.

“Wooden Jesus” opens with Matt Cameron’s hypnotic drums and percussion. During the ’80s and ’90s, Televangelists and TV preachers hoovered up enormous followings and mountains of money from their followers’ donations and purchases. Far from being the squeaky clean delivers of “God’s” word and teachings, several televangelists had been involved in scandals related to their personal lives and business enterprises. Lyrically, Cornell addresses a “Wooden Jesus” sold by such a televangelist to comment on psychological, religious, and ethical issues.

“Wooden Jesus, where are you from? Korea, Canada, or maybe Taiwan? I didn’t know it was the Holy Land. But I believed from the minute the check left my hand. And I pray, can I be saved?” Again, the band excels, creating a perfectly weighted mood and dynamic. “Wooden Jesus, I’ll cut you in. On twenty percent of my future sin.”

“Your Savior” is shot through with a groove that inadvertently sets heads nodding. Featuring slick time changes and powerful vocals, it’s a masterclass in understated, barely contained energy. After a strategic breakdown, the lid finally rips off, setting Mick McCready up to elevate the intensity to a fever pitch with a stunning guitar solo.

“Four Walled World” is breathtakingly gorgeous. Laced with a soulful blues feel, it’s another astonishing hymn to loss and what remains. The song also examines the metaphorical prison of a life constrained by pain and addiction; it’s hard not to see Cornell alluding to Andrew Wood’s suffering and ultimate fate despite the song’s protagonist being female. The intensity builds throughout; Gossard throws out some impassioned slide guitar as McCready retakes flight. Cameron and Ament drive the ship with blistering intent.

The album closes with “All Night Thing.” Matt Cameron’s deft snare shuffle introduces producer Rick Parashar’s pitch-perfect organ playing. Cornell sings, “She motioned to me that she wanted to leave and go somewhere warm, where we’d be alone. I do not know what’s going on. But I’m guessing it’s an all-night thing. It’s an all-night thing.”

For the writing process of Temple Of The Dog, one suspects that Cornell opened himself up to the free-spirited approach to songwriting that Andy Wood was so connected to, and Cornell had witnessed himself when the two lived together. It feels that way right through the album’s ten tracks.

Cornell, like Wood, was a once-in-a-lifetime talent. The fact that they operated at the same timeframe, let alone the same zip code, was either a stroke of luck or divine intervention. After Andy’s passing, Cornell channelled the lessons he learned from his friend. His songwriting was never the same after this album. Whether it was the loss of a close friend, adding the weight of the human experience to his creative outpourings or the realisation that our time is short, Chris Cornell’s path from here became the stuff of legend. His creativity flourished as he seemed to slam the door shut on the editorial staff in his head and trust his instincts.

The same can be said for Matt Cameron, Jeff Ament, Mike McCready, Stone Gossard and Eddie Vedder. Following the recording of this album, Pearl Jam took flight like a blazing meteor across the night sky. Further down the road, members would form other projects like Mad Season, which similarly tried to make sense of some desperate situations through the galvanising beauty of music.

It could be argued that the early ’90s flourish of blisteringly heartfelt music stemmed from the devastating loss of Andrew Wood and this album as a response to that tragic event. Even though it essentially went unnoticed on its release, it was never about external recognition or album sales. Its modus operandi was to galvanise a scene reeling from loss and show that so much good can come from something so dark.

In that case, it succeeded. After the earth-shattering success of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden in 1992, the album eventually sold by the truckload. There is a sharp sadness around Temple Of The Dog, even more so now that Chris Cornell has passed. This album is a testament to the beauty and richness of the human spirit and what can be channelled from grief when the intentions are pure.