I don't think we would look at grunge the same way if Wood had lived long enough to see Apple get its due in the mainstream rock world. Perhaps the shift away from hair metal wouldn't have been so abrupt. Perhaps we would be calling bands like this "thinking man's glam." Perhaps the music of dirty flannel and rainy weather would've been seen as (gasp) fun! Whether you buy into this theory or not, you can't deny that Mother Love Bone put out a pretty damn good album during their all-too-brief run.
One thing that stands about this band is how they pulled from a wide variety of influences and came up with an eerily familiar sound in hindsight. Since most of the instrumentalists here soon ended up in Pearl Jam and Temple Of The Dog, it makes sense that this would have a lot in common with those two though the exotic tone and the theatrical vocals parallel what Soundgarden had done on Louder Than Love the year before. There's also a good degree of 70s rock influence on the singalong choruses and smooth balladry.
While grunge wasn't always a down in the dumps genre, Mother Love Bone's sense of fun was much more genuine than most of their peers. While guys like Chris Cornell and Layne Staley showed their less serious sides with sneered jokes or over the top bravado, Wood has an almost impish quality similar to Robert Plant or Freddie Mercury. His voice is charismatic yet still not trying to intimidate the listener during the album's less conventional moments. The great songwriting also helps as the choruses on "Stardog Champion" and "Holy Roller" will be in your head for days while "Crown of Thorns" has a somber air that is more relaxed or world-weary than truly downtrodden.
Of course, this album isn't quite perfect. You won't find a less than above average song on here but the classic 90s problem of having too many songs does mean that the second half runs together at times. In addition, it has its variety but its consistency does mean that you won't see too many Superunknown-style experiments on here. I suppose that's another element to think about when one considers how much further they could've gone...
Albums like Dirt and Nevermind may be what everyone associates with grunge but it is truly mind boggling to imagine how it'd be seen if Apple had gotten its due. It offers a different sound when compared to the cliche and those put off by the dreary aesthetics may find this more appealing. But even if you don't buy into alternate history, it's just as great as the classics and has plenty of great songs that are worth checking out. A lot of great things came from Mother Love Bone but it's a damn shame they didn't have more time...
"Man of Golden Words"
"Crown of Thorns"