Vinyl Review: Mother Love Bone
A great band in their own right, today Mother Love Bone is best known as the band that begot Pearl Jam. After lead singer Andrew Wood tragically died from a drug overdose in 1990, just months before their debut album Apple was set to be released, Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard kept on trucking, recruiting Eddie Vedder and Mike McCready (and an revolving cast of drummers) to form Pearl Jam later that year.
After they struck it huge, Mother Love Bone’s label Mercury Records decided to cash in, and released this self-titled compilation in 1992, a grab-all that included the band’s single LP Apple, their 1989 EP Shine, and some odds and ends to fill it out. Effectively, it’s an entire discography on one album.
But strangely enough, it was never released on vinyl, probably because its length required a 2LP set, and since it came out at a time where almost no one was buying LPs, it most likely didn’t seem cost-effective.
But how the times change. And now, some 21 years after the fact, Mother Love Bone gets its vinyl debut.
It’s just too bad that Music On Vinyl was chosen to release it.
I’m not going to get into the music itself with this review, because odds are, if you’re debating shelling out $30+ for this record, you probably already own it on CD or digitally. I will say though that Mother Love Bone’s music holds up. Their blend of grunge, glam and funk is still unique and fresh today, and avoids being dated simply by sounding unlike anything else that came before or since. If you have an interest the foundations of Pearl Jam, or if you just want to seek out some great, lesser-known 90s rock, then you need to hear this record. Just don’t get this release.
Music On Vinyl is a problematic label. While many vinyl-specific reissue labels like Mobile Fidelity and Audio Fidelity pride themselves on using original source material to create new, vinyl-specific masters for their releases, others are less forthcoming; Music on Vinyl included. Neither the linear notes nor the official Music On Vinyl website share where the masters for this album came from. The closest you get to that information is a blurb on their “about” page that simply says “As for our sources; We are provided with the best possible (analogue) masters available. On top of that, our sound engineer has over 35 years of experience in cutting and mastering records for (major) labels.”
Sure, great. Well if that’s the case then tell us where you got the masters from. They never do. There’s never a line in the album notes about the source materials, never a sticker proclaiming that they’ve been “remastered for vinyl.” None of that. And if they’re not going to be upfront about that information, then why should you trust them?
I wouldn’t even bring this up if Mother Love Bone sounded great. If this record sounded amazing then I would forgive any misleading or deceptive statement from Music On Vinyl. But unfortunately that’s not the case here.
I don’t consider myself an audiophile, and I’m not going to analyze the wave spectrum of this to see if it has any frequency cut-off or anything like that. I just know my ears, and my ears don’t like this record. It doesn’t sound “right.” There’s just something off about it, something lacking. It’s bland. And it’s also noisy as shit. During any quiet part in just about any song I picked up pops and crackles that I never hear on more high-end (but just as expensive) pressings from other labels.
The thing is though, 90% of the people who buy this won’t care; because they’re strictly buying it as a collectible. I suspect Music On Vinyl knew as much too, as they went ahead and pressed two different versions; a standard black edition that appears to be unlimited, and purple vinyl copy that was limited to a scant 1,500 copies. I managed to get my hands on that one, and I’m willing to bet that I’m one of the only people who bought it with the intention of listening to it.
Pearl Jam related vinyl has a reputation for being insanely rare and valuable. Original pressings of No Code and Yield can go for hundreds of dollars, and hard-to-find copies of Green River, Brad and other related bands can also go for quite a bit. It’s a crazy market fueled by nostalgic Gen-Xers with money to burn. So if you’re the kind of person who buys vinyl as an investment or to turn it around quickly for a profit and you see a purple copy of this sucker going for near retail value; buy it. Buy it right now. It will be worth more than that in a matter of months. Shit, it’s already happening. Sealed copies are going for over $70 on eBay, and opened copies are going for nearly as much.
Mother Love Bone was a great band, and an important band in the annuls of rock history. Hopefully one day their work will get the vinyl re-issue it deserves. As it stands now, this is for Pearl Jam fanatics and crazy collectors only. Anyone who actually cares about audio quality should steer clear.