Here is my favourite track from the genuinely rock scene shifting album Superunknown.
If Mudhoney, Tad and Nirvana launched grunge with their Sub Pop scrappy lo-fi noise, then Soundgarden joined the launch ship pretty early with their SST release (the OTHER grunge label of choice). There was 1988’s Ultramega OK and then A&M Records’ first big grunge release ’89’s Louder Than Love. By ’91 they matched the perfect Ten of Pearl Jam and fitted right in with the Man In A Box alongside Alice In Chains Dirt thanks to the breakthrough badassery of Badmotorfinger.
If that’s how we carve the rings in those Screaming Trees from The Muddy Banks of The Wishkah up, then Superunknown was the last word on what and how it all went down.
Any record after this one was post grunge. This was the moment My Wave crested and broke. If you will Let Me Drown in the beginning of the end one more time, Just Like Suicide. Back then it was safe to say She Likes Surprizes and so did I.
The news the Mailman brought us all in the rock press when Soundgarden released Spoonman was that grunge had done a black album. Tight, granite hard riffs and machine tooled drum punches (do not underestimate the drumming on this album) took the fuzz and frizz out of any lo-fi remnants. There’s no spiraling squeals on Superunknown. The Black Hole Sun had come to wash away Half of all the pretenders to the throne.
Kurt was gone already. So was Kristen from Hole. Andrew from Mother Love Bone’s passing that had touched Chris and Soundgarden before their big break too. The scene seemed soaked in a pre-millennial understanding of it’s own mortality. What’s not apparent from all this doom and gloom is how much fun it all was.
Passionate, real, empowering, egalitarian and free. Grunge was like hippy metal without the naive bollocks. Children of the 60’s if Black Sabbath had had the respect they deserved. We got there in the end.
Now we had a smooth obelisk round which we could screech like monkeys at the dawn of sticking it to the Man, Maaan. Superunknown is the genre’s masterpiece.
Many of the songs on the album have been my favourites over the years. for it’s 20th anniversary Superunknown got an expansive remaster, a prophetic addition to the album artwork and a genuine shine job that really did elevate the album further. Not that the production on the original release was in anyway anything less than wonderful.
You can hear every single member of the band putting in their 26% on the original pressings of the album. Chris is at his emotive best and using his full range to the betterment of every song. Kim’s strict rule of law for his guitar only demonstrates how good his writing is. With the chaos reigned in you can feel the muscle in that down tuned groove. Down On The Upside would go further but this is the first flush of a new thang and it’s exciting. Ben’s low end bolting Matt’s world class drumming to Kim’s guitar is the glue to the whole thing. Soundgarden are a perfect band on this record. The weird cuts show this off as well as the hits. And there are many of each. On the remaster it just feels more. Fresher, bolder (even bolder) and still as toned as any rock record released since. Put the 20th Annie Edition of SUK next to QOTSA’s SFTD or FC&TRS EOS and you’ve got a confusing time winning a game of scrabble against my wife.
The last time I saw Chris Cornell it was July 4th. I was in Hyde Park for the Black Sabbath Time festival show having just seen Soulfly, Motörhead & Faith No More. He walked out with the rest of the band to a roaring sun soaked gathering of thousands. Wearing a King Animal T-shirt. he started the bands set by talking to the crowd. Chris announced that they were going to do something different. Something they hadn’t done in the UK before. They’d toured the US to support the 20th Anniversary and played the album in full. This was the first time they’d been here since King Animal was released too. Chris told the crowd as it was July 4th this would be the last time they played Superunknown in it’s entirety. The energy that washed around the park was tangible. What a treat. The opening Der Der Der Nuuu of Let Me Drown were sung back by the crowd as was every single word of the whole album.
Seven years ago feels like a lifetime in 2021. The longer he’s gone the more the rock world misses him. I’d seen Soundgarden several times. Their articulation of the dark parts of the psyche and their nonjudgmental way of dealing with them have been a constant. Their mix of slow low grooves and high notes unique in the cannon. Cornell has appeared on here almost as much as Ginger Wildheart or Iggy Pop given his many projects and constant posthumous releases. He’s one of the legends of the genre.
Happy 4th Of July.