In a bit of a train of thought from yesterdays Willie Nelson tribute. I mentioned the OTHER stand out track on Twisted Willie was Reverend Horton Heat. He did Hello Walls. A song about moping about inside and never stepping outside. It’s resonated increasingly with the events of the last year or so. On a similar theme of Grunge and locked in introspection It feels right to follow L7 doing Three Days with the Grunge super group to out all other grunge super groups. Temple Of The Dog. That album Man. It drips with emotion.
So like I did on the recent Against Me! post about Two Coffins, I’m going to do an album review by stealth but have you all think we’re just here to count off the Four Walled World.
The opener Say Hello To Heaven could have justified the entire collaboration in it’s own right. Chris Cornell does all the heavy lifting vocally on this one while Pearl Jam’s new boy (this album was recorded before Ten… Imagine that) restricted himself to backing vocals. There’s a delicious blues lament guitar solo, classic big clattering drums with masses of space between them. Chris sings his simple tribute to their fallen friend from the heart. It gets all epic in the closing minute and you know the alchemy of this band of musos is going to be something special for the run time of the record.
Kim from Soundgarden must’ve loaned Mike McCready his most squelchy pedals for the slow bubble riff like boiling mud at a geyser on track two. Reach Down is a long slow stoner jam. Just like Aunt Pearl used to bake. Eddie and Chris harmonise on the chorus but this is still very much a Cornell song with Cameron on drums making more space than a rock drummer has a right to do for the wibble FX and the reverbed guitars to fade in and out of each other. At over 11 minutes it wouldn’t have worked on one black 12″ disc. It would have crowded the grooves. Most copies were sold on CD anyway where those minutes weren’t so precious. Thanks goodness for the recent expanded three sided edition. It’s hypnotic.
Track three is your money shot. I wrote about Hunger Strike before (technically this is the third track from this album to feature on EsEffTeeDee). A real anthem of an era. Vedder and Cornell toe to toe on a righteous duet that had as much in common with a field song as it did kids in plaid shirts singing around campfires. That iconic sunset on a beach video is still a cultural touchstone for the way rock music got all serious in the 90’s. It’s a stone cold classic of the era.
Grooves are got back on for Pushin’ Forward Back. It clatters and howls over a chugging riff while CC sings about the day he started acting up. A unifiying statement perhaps for all the players. A moment when you stand up and push against the norm. Kick against the pricks. Become ‘a weirdo’ full time. I think most of the people listening can identify such a moment. Or we’d be listening to the state approved slop on Saturday Night TV not trawling the internet for like minded souls enthusing about old Grunge records (I see you *waves*)
The album is however a tribute to a friend lost too soon. Andrew Wood from Mother Love Bone had been close with the guys in Green River and Soundgarden. Pearl Jam is in part made up of Mother Love Bone survivors. When he died it seemed impossible for the Stardog Champions to take another bite of the Apple without him. They processed their grief into Call Me A Dog. I posted the track the week we lost Chris. I was too upset at the time to write more than a single line of explanation for this one. Now I can hardly explain better why the death of a singer I liked affected me like I’d lost a friend I actually knew. I guess after losing Bowie, Prince, Lemmy etc the previous year, we had all got used to the old guard cashing in their chips. A rock and rollers life often doesn’t make for old bones. Chris though, he was a way of processing the turmoil. To lose the guy who sang Call Me A Dog and Times Of Trouble meant it could come for any of us. I mean that’s obvious right. Of course. Death and Taxes. All that. Still, fucking hell. Chris Cornell should have had decades more. We should have had him for much longer.
Wooden Jesus stands out from the record in more ways than one. It’s patently not about Andrew. It’s about iffy religious icons and the monetisation of faith. Anyone who has dealt with the Death Business can see what a rip off it all is. One last chance to shake you down before you’re truly gone. That’s the lyrical content covered. The block percussion intro and mid tempo make room for a solo that sears up high just for Chris to come along and wail over it at the end in a way that pits man against elemental forces and sees the voice come out the victor. It’s part of a story arc that works in a pre-QOTSA crunk funk groove for the following track Your Savior. There is such a dirty dance on this track it’s almost Pearl Jam’s Dirty Frank in places.
After the funeral and all the churchyness you always end up home alone. In a Four Walled World. Dealing with your new reality. They’re gone. You remain.
“Well, she cries and shes cries all night to the sound of the freeway hum”
That’s the real story. When you suffer a loss you don’t really process it until you’re sat at home in the dark having a long hard wee small hours stare at the walls. We’ve all been doing that for a year. If we recognise it or not. We lost something. Actually we lost a lot of things. Maybe we were systematically conditioned to some of them and we’re better off without them. The grind, the buzz, the hum. What if it never comes back? What if we return to village life? Less travel, more community. What if? What will be?
The after will come. But maybe not how we knew the before. That’s what I hear now as Stone Gossard scorches the roof with his guitar and Chris hollers back at us from 30 plus years ago about exactly what we’ve all been doing in 2020 and 2021.
Four Walled World makes for a magnificent set closer. Except there is one more song. A slow slight torchsong. All Night Thing talks of the first indications of a new era. Can you believe it was on the soundtrack to Wayne’s World? That is NOT right and yet, it’s exactly right. Lyrically we’re not sure if it’s a one night stand or the first day of a bright new future. It’s a wonderful way to process what has gone before. Over more stellar drumming (honestly Matt Cameron is phenomenal on every inch of this album) At the end of the night, a new day.