Razor & Tie, 1993

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


James Brown may have been the hardest-working man in show business, but surely Stone Gossard gave him a run for his money in the early ’90s.

The guitarist and songwriter churned out pretty much one album a year from 1989 to 1994, from the proto-grunge of Mother Love Bone's Apple (1989) to Temple Of The Dog (1990), Pearl Jam's Ten (1991), Vs. (1993) and Vitalogy (1994), and then a disc with his side project, Brad, also in 1993.

Each of these pieces of music has its own identity, a credit not only to Gossard's creativity but to the quality sidemen with which he surrounded himself. In an interview for Shame, he maintains that this project came together quickly without much thought but that it was not an outlet for songs deemed unfit for Pearl Jam.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The music bears this out; although there are definite ties to the sound of the grunge era, the music is more low-key, trading the emotion and anthemic approach of Ten for a more low-key, soulful approach. The result is appealing, a flawed gem of the ’90s alt-rock scene that deserves a second listen.

"My Fingers" is a grungy Soundgarden-esque rocker that sounds like it inspired both Candlebox and the Chili Peppers’ One Hot Minute, and people who own both of those discs (and anything by Pearl Jam) will be the target audience for Shame. “Nadine” is a mid-tempo groove-heavy piece elevated by Shawn Smith's uneasy, chameleon-like vocals and standout bass playing.

The music moves effortlessly from those tracks through the funky jam “20th Century” and the near-ballad “Screen,” featuring a bluesy guitar solo not normally associated with Gossard. Of course, that is sort of the point of the whole album; if you didn't know he was involved, you would assume Brad was a completely new band to be taken on its own terms.

It's when the music slows down that the album suffers, particularly in the shapeless “Buttercup,” the morbidly slow Chris Cornell reject “Down” and “Good News.” The goofy novelty “Bad For The Soul” and truly strange “Rockstar” inject a bit of humor into the proceedings, with the latter leading into “We.” This is the only time the music attempts (and reaches) an epic feel, with piano, fuzzed-out guitar and Smith's barely audible words—added  only for texture—leading the song down into the abyss before an abrupt ending.

Not every song works, a fact Gossard admits, but Shame succeeds on its own terms. The disc was recorded in only 17 days but rarely sounds tossed-off, instead ending up as more than the sum of its parts. While perhaps not a vital part of the alternative scene, the majority of the music is quite good and, thanks to Razor & Tie’s 2013 reissue, ripe for rediscovery.

Rating: B

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