In 1994 the underground swelling that was to be labelled as “grunge” was dead. The Slacker generation had moved on.
Mad Season, some might say had the potential to be a grunge supergroup – the pedigree was there. A band already out of time – but they did have a very strong line-up and musical blueprint but it was to only to end in total personal tragedy.
Layne Stanley who had sung for Alice In Chains, a band I never really got on with (their music), was clearly a very talented vocalist. Mike McCready (guitar) had played on early Pearl Jam material and had already dabbled with a grunge supergroup notion with Temple Of The Dog. John Baker Saunders, bass, had dabbled with various relatively low key bands from the era / genre. Brett Martin played drums, as he had for Screaming Trees.
A rep from Sony gave me the vinyl of the album simply stating as he did “you must have liked Temple Of The Dog” – I didn’t really. I’d heard bits from Temple Of The Dog – but, to me – it sounded overblown.
“Above”, the only album Mad Season were to make, sure looked good physically. A double vinyl record – the final side of which was blank and was artistically etched all over. I quietly thought to myself, “three side of grunge in 1994, isn’t this all over?” – but I couldn’t complain I was being given the album.
That evening I gave the record a spin. It was much stronger than I had imagined it could be and, with hindsight – is a massively, now overlooked offering.
I have never liked Pearl Jam. Sure, “Alive” is a decent alternative track but that band really did latch onto something they didn’t quite belong with. I’ve always questioned how genuine they are. Maybe it’s just me being unreasonably cynical – but I really do loathe them. That said, McCready gives his best performance on “Above”. The guitar does not dominate but when it rises on this album it really does burn – it hits the right spot – gone is the Pearl Jam pomp, and it’s shimmeringly glorious with it too.
Although “River Of Deceit” is touted as the stand-out track (and was released as a single) the outstanding track, for me, is the albums slowly burning opener “Wake Up”. The whole album is strong but the opening piece towers above the following tracks. It has a wallowing feel. My interpretation of the lyric is that it’s time the band (and generation) stop dabbling, it’s an attempted wake-up call to the Slacker following. Lush, looming imagery. In a way – a slap around the chops. It ambles (it’s seven and a half minutes long). It has Neil Young & Crazy Horse qualities to it. Despite looming hushness it does rise like a phoenix, a blistering guitar matches the developing urgency the vocal spews. An overlooked classic.
The interpretation is my own – the irony is the singer and the drummer would die from suspected overdoses. Mad Season did not achieve any commercial success in the U.K. despite backing from Sony (Colombia) – the album sold in relatively fair quantities in the States. I listen to it about once a year and every time I do so I still feel a connection with the albums opener like I do with few other records – pure quality.