Mad Season

Columbia Records, 1995


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Imagine, for a few minutes, that three of the Seattle scene's biggest names had never formed their own bands. Gone from the scene are Pearl Jam, Screaming Trees and Alice In Chains. (Okay, so it looks like Alice In Chains is indeed history, but that's beside the point.) What would we be left with?

The answer came in the form of Mad Season, a loose collaborative effort featuring Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready, Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin, Alice In Chains vocalist/resident junkie Layne Staley and bassist John Baker Saunders. Thanks to loyal reader and Pierce Posse member Joe Young - who showed great courage by lending me his copy of the tape - I got to hear past the two singles and saw that this partnership was good, indeed.

Despite the histories each player brought with him, Mad Season's album Above doesn't really sound like any of their respective bands. From the opening cut "Wake Up," you know that this is going to have its own unique voice - and this, in retrospect, is a good thing. The lounge-act feel of this song is a surprising wake-up call to those expecting to hear "We Die Young" or "Alive" or "Nearly Lost You"; this is a whole different group with a whole different perspective. (The use of vibes on a few tracks is also an interesting touch.)my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

But often the band does dip into the Alice In Chains vein (oops...), as witnessed on single number two "I Don't Know Anything". I was never fond of this one on the radio, and I can't say hearing it in the context of the whole album does it any more justice. On the contrary, the lead-off single "River Of Deceit" continues to shine in its almost-acoustic glory. It's not that Mad Season rejects the crunch that people might have expected; instead, they challenge us to explore different options just as they have.

Staley's vocals have never sounded stronger and clearer, while McCready sounds like he's been energized creatively on Above. The instruemntal work "November Hotel" is example enough of his creative juices; it's almost as if e's expressing ideas that never would have sounded right with Pearl Jam. Saunders's bass work is often repetitive, but it does grow on you, while Martin makes a strong statement as a drummer on this one.

If anything disappoints on Above, it is the rock aspect of this one. The quieter, gentler numbers tend to be the stronger performances on this album - even Screaming Trees vocalist Mark Lanegan adds his two cents on two tracks. But the rock tracks often sound like Mad Season is trying to replicate the magic of their other bands - and this just isn't possible.

And although Above is a good album, I would still advise listeners to approach it with caution. This is not an easy listen, nor is it an album you can listen to just once and be done with it. It's only on repeated listenings that the strengths and weaknesses begin to poke their heads through. This one might take a few tries to get through once, but as I've often said about albums like this, it's worth the effort.

Above is an album that most likely will now be added to the ever-growing Pierce Archives... and yes, Joe, you're going to get your tape back. As long as you can forget about three other bands for an hour, you will find Above captivating, if not occasionally confusing.


Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Columbia Records, and is used for informational purposes only.