If you are a modern name dropping fan of grunge and are consistently going on about how we need a “grunge” re-birth and all that unnecessary trash and you don’t own “Above” by Mad Season then I really think it is time to disconnect from the computer, unplug your distortion pedal and stop studying ways to rip off the loud to soft alternative rock dynamic and buy this album. Basically if you were born in 1991 and draw on the Seattle superheroes for your classic rock strength, bite the fucking bullet and fork out your money and buy this album. Yes I repeated myself with two separate sentences but you see I felt you possibly weren’t listening the first time and quite possibly you took it personally and got offended on my second attempt so let me just say it one more time, buy this fucking album.
Why do you have to buy it?
Well beyond it being an essential rock n roll album it is also one of the finest examples of what was so special about that revolution that came from Seattle in the 1990’s.
So perhaps I better give a history lesson for those who aren’t aware who this band consists of.
The band Mad Season started in 1994 and contains members of three of the most popular Seattle bands of the time who were Layne Staley on vocals and occasional guitar (Alice In Chains), Mike McCready on guitar (Pearl Jam), Barrett Martin on drums (Screaming Trees) and was rounded out by John Baker Saunders on bass. McCready met Baker during a stint in Rehab and once they returned to Seattle they started a band with Barrett Martin. McCready brought in Layne to provide vocals and within a very short period of time the band had written a bunch of songs, played a show and made plans to record an album. The resulting album is their sole release and is called “Above” and is wonderful collection of sparse rock songs built on the blues tradition and soaked in the kind of post-recovery pain that was pulsating through at least three of the band members.
What sets Mad Season apart from the three bands attached to its most well-known members is that it sounds significantly different to their respective bands. I often felt that the Mad Season vehicle was a more pure outlet for Layne Staley and really showcases him at his most expressive and also at his most vulnerable lyrically and melodically. The album also features Mark Lanegan on two of the album cuts as a guest vocalist along with guest Saxophonist Skerik on album standout “Long Gone Day.”
The album got the deluxe re-release earlier in April this year and for the first time we get the full album re-mastered along with two extra discs, the first being the full audio for their Live at the Moore show and the third disc being a DVD with the Live at the Moore original VHS released version with the bonus cuts and also two separate live features including their New Year’s show at the now defunct Seattle club RKCNDY. The original album also has five bonus tracks attached to it which are three tracks leftover from the original album sessions with vocals and lyrics courtesy of Mark Lanegan. There is also a small instrumental intruelde from the same sessions and the bands cover of John Lennon’s “I Don’t Want To Be A Solider” which closes disc one out. All in all it is beyond satisfactory and an unbelievable addition to the true believers collection and the perfect starting point for those who are just discovering the band.
This brings me to the music on “Above” and the way it is communicated. This album is in my top eleven albums of all-time list that is how much this record means to me. I think of all of the music to come from Seattle from that revolutionary era this album sells what was so special about all of the musicians that participated in that scene. The amount of emotion dripping from this album is hard to describe because it is a bit of a benchmark for how to communicate yourself honestly via music. I own a lot of music and I don’t think I’ve ever heard loneliness or pain communicated through music in such a pure way. I know that other musicians do a good job of being honest and all that it but something about “Above” is just so different. It drowns in its pain but it also spreads its wings to help you escape to somewhere even more beautiful. It is that beauty from the darkness of it all that really resonates and I think this album is for a seasoned music listener. You have to have been around the block a few times in life to truly understand the purity and emotion of this record. I still learn something about myself every time I listen to it and it always leads me to both a state of reflection and also clarity. A lot of that has to do with the loneliness that oozes out of each members performance and especially the guitar performance of Mike McCready and vocals of Layne Staley. It is a beautiful swoon of damaged perfection and has the capacity to reduce me to tears.
I love this re-issue quite a bit and the new tracks with Lanegan on vocals are the perfect addition to an already strong set of songs. The live CD and DVD component both fills me with joy and also breaks my heart because it gives us a glimpse at a band that only got to communicate its pain at that one point in time. Layne looks so happy to be inside of those songs with those players and to know that years later he’d be gone is just, well fucking really sad.
I think at this point I will end this little review with a track that you should all listen to on your own in the dark, quite possibly on a Sunday evening. It sums up both the beauty and the isolation of life in one song. Few songs have the capacity to reduce me to tears so quickly but this song always does.
10 Cassette tapes out of 10
By: Dan Newton
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