I’m finishing off my week of “also ran” artists today with Soundgarden. When I told my wife they didn’t make the official top 40, it was one of the only bands she was surprised about. Admittedly, I was a little surprised as well. I know it was the right decision, but still, they came close enough to get their own post…
As a result of the aforementioned mix tape, I found myself gravitating quickly towards the “Seattle sound.” In the beginning, this was a lot of Pearl Jam and Nirvana. Then I added some Alice in Chains to the mix. Eventually, I finally found my way to Soundgarden around the time they released Superunknown. I was a little late to the party, but glad I showed up at all. I backtracked to their previous two releases, but mostly just kept listening to Superunknown again and again. I got Down on the Upside when it came out, and even saw them when they headlined Lollapalooza with Metallica. I liked Down on the Upside, but mostly still listened to Superunknown.
For listening today, I covered slightly more ground: Louder Than Love (1989), Badmotorfinger (1991), Superunknown (1994), Down on the Upside (1996) and I even gave King Animal (2012) a shot. I threw in a couple songs from soundtracks as well, like Birth Ritual from the movie Singles. However, I did find myself skipping most of both Louder than Love and King Animal (why did I even think it was a good idea to include that). I also only hit the high points of Badmotorfinger, like Outshined and Rusty Cage. Mostly, like always, it was a lot of Down on the Upside and every last bit of Superunknown.
A lot of people like their early albums for the raw and unpolished sound they have. Those albums were absolutely built to be played in small, smokey clubs in the Pacific Northwest. It’s possible some people liked King Animal. I mean, it got good marks from critics. To me, it sounded too much like Audioslave, and I never liked Audioslave. I find that odd, since I liked both Soundgarden and Rage Against the Machine. I guess the two just didn’t mix right for me. Nope, give me the polished and powerful Superunknown any day.
I don’t know why I keep coming back to that album. It’s something that I still make sure is on my playlists to this day. It’s probably one of my favorite albums, and I listened to it ad nauseam in high school. Tracks like 4th of July, Mailman, Fell on Black Days and The Day I Tried to Live blew me away back then, and I was okay with the radio plays like Spoonman and Black Hole Sun.
Side note: When I say them at Lollapalooza, Chris Cornell did a solo acoustic version of Black Hole Sun. This followed Kickstand and Ty Cobb, and a good portion of the crowd had worked itself up into a moshing frenzy. I was in one pit, and I could see at least three others from where I was. Then he breaks out the acoustic guitar and turns Black Hole Sun into a ballad. Many in the pits didn’t know what to do. I knew it was time to put my lighter in the air, but some people were so worked up that they continued trying to mosh. It ended up being this ridiculous slow motion mosh pit, looking a little like bumper cars or a horde from The Walking Dead, just slowly bumping into each other and shambling around. It was pretty amusing.
Anyway, I’m not sure what draws me back to Superunknown over and over through time. I thought it might be pure nostalgia, for all the times I sat in my room, listening to it on repeat and reading comic books. That doesn’t seem quite right. As I learned from listening to the Offspring, nostalgia doesn’t usually carry me much past the opening bits of a song. I’ll smile with some thought of the past, but then move on to something else. Plus, I don’t have any specific and powerful memories attached to it. It just represents more of an era than a time, and not an era I look back on that fondly. I like to think that’s it’s just a far superior album, and that I’m one of the few who recognizes it. That’s not it, though. I’m nowhere near that insightful, and a lot of people listened to it. It’s doubtful I alone would have discovered its true value. No, I really don’t know why I love that album as mush as I do. Maybe that’s what makes it great, that someone like me who has wandered a lot in the musical spectrum would keep coming back to it years later. Maybe. I don’t know.
It’s a pretty kickass album though.
Rest in Peace, Chris Cornell. You were never outshined.