Alongside the recruitment of Soundgarden‘s new sit-in drummer and their recent SXSW show, I’ve already made passing reference to the Superunknown superdeluxeboxset* out at the beginning of June, so this is something of a follow-up post. As a landmark grunge album – indeed as a landmark rock album – it can probably just about cope with the burden.
Superunknown is arguably the defining Soundgarden album, the one in which their sound had developed to its fullest expression, far beyond the eerie indie leanings of Ultramega OK and the quasi-metal outpouring of Badmotorfinger. From the urgent riffs of ‘Let Me Drown’ right through to the washed-out guitars of ‘Like Suicide’, this is their most focused and coherent album (even at 70 minutes), where the combination of Cornell’s extraordinary and evolving vocal talents, Thayil’s dense and dextrous guitar work, Shepherd’s creative basslines and Cameron’s precise drumming find full expression in high-quality and intricate songwriting that far transcends any lazy “Beatles meets Black Sabbath” description (not that this mix is exactly a bad thing for any band to achieve). When you listen to the album, the band’s awareness that they have finally given full definition to what they have long wanted and aspired to create – the essence of the band, even – is almost tangible. Down on the Upside may be their most polished work, but it lacks Superunknown‘s taut construction.
And here’s the Rolling Stone review from 1994 (not 1997, as the URL might suggest): a thoughtful and largely positive (if a tad pretentious, but it was written by a music journo) review. When I found this review, I also came across the magazine’s 1994 top 40 “mainstream-alternative” albums. With releases from, among others, Nine Inch Nails, Green Day, Jeff Buckley, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Hole, Beck and, err, Weezer, it was quite a year. Hell, it was quite a week: The Downward Spiral was released on the same day as Superunknown in March 1994. Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden are touring the US together this summer: here’s an interview with Cornell this month on radio.com about Superunknown 20, the SXSW show and the forthcoming tour with NIN.
* No, not the title of a Sparklehorse album. I have often misread the title as Super-unk-nown. No, no idea why, and not terribly interesting either (I have no idea what an unk is, or what its nown would look like), but I challenge you not to misread it this way now the idea’s in your head.**
** Ok, it’s not much of a challenge, really. I’ll try harder next time.***
*** I might not try harder next time.****