Monday, April 29, 2013

Mad Season - Above (Deluxe Edition)

Mad Season
Above (Deluxe Edition)
Columbia Records/Sony Music Entertainment

When the grunge rock scene exploded in the early ‘90’s, all eyes were on Seattle (Washington, U.S.). It was an exciting time, and while grunge’s reign on the rock scene was brief, it produced some truly great bands. But for all of the big names that emerged out of the Seattle scene, one that failed to go onto true greatness was the short lived supergroup Mad Season.
On paper, Mad Season was almost a sure bet for success, with its members including Layne Staley (Alice In Chains vocalist), Mike McCready (Pearl Jam/Temple Of The Dog guitarist), John Baker Saunders (The Lamont Cranston Band bassist) and Barrett Martin (Screaming Trees drummer). And sure enough, when the band released their debut full-length effort ‘Above’ in 1995, the album was a huge commercial success.
But for all of the success Mad Season had achieved with ‘Above’, the band never managed to complete a follow-up effort. Staley’s declining health (A drug dependency that would see Staley pass away in 2002 through an overdose) saw Screaming Trees front man Mark Lanegan step into the fold, and while some material was recorded throughout 1997 and 1998, Saunders’ heroin overdose in 1999 brought Mad Season to a premature end.
Despite the band’s short time together, Mad Season’s legacy has lived on, and seventeen years after its release, surviving members Martin and McCready have sifted through the vaults to pay tribute to dearly departed friends, as well as give fans a definitive deluxe version of the band’s sole studio release ‘Above’.
The first disc of this box set comprises of a remastered version of ‘Above’, along with some previously unreleased tracks from the band’s aborted second album.
As an album, ‘Above’ was something very different from what was happening elsewhere in Seattle at the time. Mad Season were obviously aware of grunge’s slow decline at the time, and decided to experiment beyond the staple sound they were associated with in the own groups. In simple terms, ‘Above’ was a little more blues based, with elements of jazz and experimentation thrown into the mix, which makes for a truly different sounding album. I’ll spare the breakdown of every track as most fans will already be familiar with the album itself. But in terms of highlights, tracks such as the haunting opener ‘Wake Up’, ‘River Of Deceit’, the heavy blues sounding ‘Artificial Red’, the Alice In Chains-like ‘Lifeless Dead’ and the sparse closer ‘All Alone’ are definite standout cuts.
Of course, not everything works on the album (‘I Don’t Know Anything’ is overly repetitive and thin on the ground in terms of ideas, and ‘Long Gone Day’ is just a little too lounge/jazz sounding to really take off like it should), but overall Mad Season’s debut is an experimental piece of work that works as a whole.
In terms of bonus tracks, there’s the short instrumental ‘Interlude’ that found its way on the promotional copies of the original album that were removed upon the album’s official release. It’s an interesting piece, but hardly an essential addition to the album. Next up are three tracks from
Mad Season’s ill-fated second album recording sessions. ‘Locomotive’ is an intense rocker that has McCready playing up a storm and Lanegan growling in his trademark fashion, and is easily the stand out cut of the three revisited new tracks. ‘Black Book Of Fear’ (A track co-written with former R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck) is a wistful slow burner, while ‘Slip Away’ is another favourite with McCready’s guitar work proving to be nothing short of amazing.
Finishing up the first disc is Mad Season’s cover of John Lennon’s ‘I Don’t Wanna Be A Soldier’, which originally appeared on the Lennon tribute album ‘Working Class Hero’ from 1995. The song is presented here in remixed form, which has allowed the track to stand alongside the other tracks in their remastered form. While this track is hardly a rarity, its inclusion here does mean that all of Mad Season’s studio work has been compiled onto the one disc, which I can only see as a good thing.
The second disc of this box set is the complete and unedited recording of Mad Season’s final performance at Seattle’s Moore Theatre on April 29th 1995. The eleven track set has never before been released on C.D. as a whole (Four of the seven tracks did make an appearance as b-sides to singles), and its inclusion here is a welcome one for fans.
Finishing up the box set is a D.V.D. of the band’s ‘Live At The Moore’ concert film from 1995, and a whole host of previously unreleased live footage from the band.
The D.V.D. re-release of ‘Live At The Moore’ has been a long time coming, and the wait has been worth it. The footage has been obviously cleaned up a lot, and it looks great. The remastered 5.1 surround sound (Handled by ‘Above’ producer Brett Eliason) has given the soundtrack a crispness that wasn’t otherwise there on the original as well. In terms of performance, ‘Live At The Moore’ has plenty of great moments, but the most notable moments include the added rawness of set opener ‘Lifeless Dead’, the laid back groove of ‘River Of Deceit’  and the extended jamming on ‘November Hotel’ (Which documents McCready channelling The Who’s Pete Townsend as he destroys his equipment). Aside from the official concert, this D.V.D. also compiles a mass of previously unreleased bootleg footage as well, including the five missing tracks from the band’s performance from ‘Live At The Moore’, a full nine track concert from New Year’s Eve 1994/1995 at Seattle’s RKCNDY club, two tracks from the Self Pollution Radio studios (Footage that’s been around for years, but that much better now it’s on D.V.D.) and the band’s sole promotional video clip ‘River Of Deceit’.
With extensive liner notes penned by Martin (Which are informative and heartfelt), beautiful packaging and filled with loads of previously unreleased material, this re-release is an absolute must have for fans of Mad Season, and a fitting tribute to the music both Staley and Saunders helped create on ‘Above’.

For more information on Mad Season, check out - http://www.madseasonmusic.com/

© Justin Donnelly