Badmotofinger by Soundgarden

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Badmotofinger by SoundgardenLaying the sonic foundation for their most successful run as a band, Soundgarden delivered their first of a trio of critically acclaimed albums with 1991’s Badmotofinger. The third studio release by this Seattle-based hard rock band, the album features a variety of guitar textures, rhythms with unique time signature combinations and soaring vocal patterns above droning tonalities, making it an art rock centerpiece and a mainstream metal work.

Deriving from a band called The Shemps in Seattle in the early 1980s, the group’s original member was vocalist and (former) drummer Chris Cornell. Guitarist Kim Thayil was originally enlisted as a bassist but moved to guitar when the original Soundgarden took form as a trio in 1984. The band released a pair of EPs in 1987, followed by their independent debut album, Ultramega OK, the following year. After a successful tour supporting that album, Soundgarden signed with A&M Records and released the 1989 mainstream metal album, Louder Than Love.

After working with several bassists, the group hired Ben Shepherd in 1990, just prior to the Badmotorfinger recording sessions. The album was recorded at several west coast studios in the spring of 1991 with producer Terry Date, with who they had previously works. In between the album’s recording and October 1991 release, Cornell and drummer Matt Cameron recorded the album Temple of the Dog by the supergroup of the same name.


Badmotorfinger by Soundgarden
Released: October 8, 1991 (A&M)
Produced by: Terry Date & Soundgarden
Recorded: A&M Studios, Los Angeles; Studio D, Sausalito, CA; Bear Creek Studios, Woodinville, WA; March-April 1991
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Rusty Cage
Outshined
Slaves & Bulldozers
Jesus Christ Pose
Face Pollution
Somewhere
Searching with My Good Eye Closed
Room a Thousand Years Wide
Mind Riot
Drawing Flies
Holy Water
New Damage
Chris Cornell – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Kim Thayil – Guitars
Ben Shepherd – Bass
Matt Cameron – Drums

Badmotofinger by Soundgarden

The album commences with “Rusty Cage” and the intro call and response guitar licks which precede the thumping drive of the song proper. The core of this tune features a mesmerizing, de-tuned guitar riff by Thayil which used a wah wah in the low position used as a filter for added effect. This song was later recorded by Johnny Cash for his 1996 album Unchained. “Outshined” features Cornell’s animated vocals over a quasi-doomy riff and rhythms through the verses. In an interesting juxtaposition, the song’s choruses are more melodic and accessible with some fine harmonies. Co-written by Shepherd, “Slaves and Bulldozers” is built on a strong bass riff through the nearly seven-minute drill-em-to-death approach, which is fine for a certain kind of listener mood.

The most controversial song on Badmotofinger was the lead single “Jesus Christ Pose”, a group composition with wild rhythms and screeching guitar chords which seem to be ready-made for an action sequence in a movie. Cornell’s vocals are at the top of his register, adding to the overall feeling of nervousness with the oft-misunderstood lyrics speaking of the exploitation of religion for personal benefit. “Face Pollution” is the first of two solo compositions by Shepherd, with this one being a heavily punk influenced track with a punk-like length of just over two minutes. “Somewhere” follows as a more of a standard rock song with heavy use of rhyming and emphasis on melody. “Searching with My Good Eye Closed” features Cameron playing interesting beats and just enough fills during the droning song proper, with Thayil playing well-effected long-noted guitar patterns to give it all a late sixties psychedelic effect.

Soundgarden in1991

While having some sonic highlights, the latter half of the album loses a bit of steam. Besides having a really cool name, there is really nothing special about “Room a Thousand Years Wide” as an audio song. “Drawing Flies” is another fast, drilling song by Cameron but fades out too fast making it sound like filler, while “Holy Water” is a sloshy, grunge rocker and the closer “New Damage” is one final, dramatic guitar and vocal-centered screed which leaves the album with an ominous message for the listener. The best of this set of songs is “Mind Riot”, which combines a good bass riff intro with guitars entering in turn with a fine effect, and when drums finally enter with an odd tempo, it all resolves with a really cool vibe going that is kind of bluesy and somewhat Eastern influenced.

Badmotorfinger was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance in 1992 and the album has been certified two times platinum, selling over a million and a half copies in the United States. The album’s success led to an extended North American tour and built the foundation for much greater success later in the decade.

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1991 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1991 albums.

Down On the Upside by Soundgarden

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Down On the Upside by SoundgardenThe climax of the group’s original success, Down On the Upside was a super-sized album by Soundgarden, one which would have been a double album in decades earlier than this 1996 release. The fifth studio album by the band, the music here is more experimental than on previous releases as it features expanded instrumentation, more complex harmonies, layered guitar textures and ambitious song structures.

In early 1994, Soundgarden released their breakthrough, Superunknown, which topped the pop album charts and remains the group’s most commercially successful album. During the subsequent touring, Cornell severely strained his vocal cords, which forced the group to take a break and ultimately slow the pace of touring.

Work on Down On the Upside began in Seattle in the summer of 1995. Compositions were more individually written with front man Chris Cornell writing most of the lyrics. Some tensions reportedly arose between Cornell guitarist Kim Thayil during these recording sessions, which would be the last for the group for over a decade and a half.


Down on the Upside by Soundgarden
Released: May 21, 1996 (Interscope)
Produced by: Adam Kasper & Soundgarden
Recorded: Studio Litho and Bad Animals Studio, Seattle, November 1995–February 1996
Album Tracks Primary Musicians
Pretty Noose
Rhinosaur
Zero Chance
Dusty
Ty Cobb
Blow Up the Outside World
Burden in My Hand
Never Named
Applebite
Never the Machine Forever
Tighter and Tighter
No Attention
Switch Opens
Overfloater
An Unkind
Boot Camp
Chris Cornell – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Mandolin
Kim Thayil – Lead Guitar
Ben Shepherd – Bass, Mandolin
Matt Cameron – Drums, Percussion, Synths

Down On the Upside by Soundgarden

Starting things off, “Pretty Noose” is a choppy rocker with distinct, layered guitar riffs. It was the lead single from the album and reached number two on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart. “Rhinosaur” was co-written by drummer Matt Cameron and features some odd-timed rhythms during the verses with the choruses featuring uplifting vocals by Cornell, A frantic guitar lead over the bridge quickly dissolves back to the relatively slower main theme to end the track. “Zero Chance” is the first of several tracks by bassist Ben Shepherd as a traditional grunge depressant, while his track “Dusty” employs much heavier rock with a lyric that gives the album its title.

The unique track “Ty Cobb” starts with a relaxed intro with both Cornell and Sheppard playing a mandolin and mandola respectively, before the band launches into a full punk screed. On “Blow Up the Outside World”, Soundgarden uses an A-B attack strategy. First there is the calm acoustic section, sung gently and melodically, accompanied by a nice tremolo second guitar and heavy bluesy third guitar as tension builds through the early verses. Then the arrangement explodes into a full metal assault during the chorus. Together these sections make for a bonafide classic, further solidified by the fantastic, calm guitar lead by Thayil in the middle.

Cornell’s voice above pure, folk, open-C strumming makes for a unique and potent blend of sonic bliss during “Burden in My Hand”. This song does get heavier in the choruses, but never over the top for this track which topped the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks charts for five weeks. When full rhythmic arrangement joins for the later verses, song and album reaches its musical heights.

Soundgarden in 1996
 
There is no doubt that Down On the Upside is top-heavy in terms of quality, as the latter part of this long album contains several tracks which could be considered filler material. Shepherd’s “Never Named” is a short speed rock jam, while Cameron’s “Applebite” is mainly an instrumental with some distorted, mechanical vocals. Cornell’s “Tighter and Tighter” is a moderately paced track bluesy rock jam in contrast to the frantic, quasi-punk “No Attention”. The best of this later group includes Thayil’s “Never the Machine Forever” with rapid riff, screeching guitars, Shepherd’s potent jam “An Unkind”, and the unidirectional closing track,
“Boot Camp”.

A worldwide success, Down On the Upside topped the charts in several countries, topping out at number two in the group’s native United States. The group again went on a massive tour to support this album but tensions within the band ultimately led to their disbandment early in 1997. Soundgarden would not reunite for a studio album until the production of King Animal in 2012, with a follow-up to that album currently in the works as of mid 2016.

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1996 music celebration image

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1996 albums.

 

Superunknown by Soundgarden

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Superunknown by SoundgardenAlthough it was the group’s fourth overall release, Superunknown was the real breakthrough album for Soundgarden in 1994. This release was a critical and commercial success and the 15 track album, which clocks in over 70 minutes in length and pushes the capacity limits of CDs, would have easily been a double album a decade earlier. Musically and compositionally, Superunknown blended the group’s core metal style with elements of punk, rock, pop, and psychedelia, along with some songs of Middle-Eastern or Indian influence. The band also experimented with different drum and guitar sounds, as well as layering techniques to create a more expansive sonic output.

After the group’s extensive touring following the 1991 album Badmotorfinger, Soundgarden began work on this album with producer Michael Beinhorn in 1993. The four band members worked on material independently and then brought demos to the collective sessions. Ultimately, front man Chris Cornell composed the lion’s share of the material but points out that the recording process was far more important than on previous albums.

Lyrically, the album is a bit dark, with themes dealing with seclusion, fear, revenge, substance abuse and depression. Cornell said that the album’s closing song “Like Suicide” is literal and the album’s cover art includes a black and white image of an upside-down burning forest. The inspiration for the album’s title came from the misreading of a video entitled “Superclown”.


Superunknown by Soundgarden
Released: March 8, 1994 (A&M)
Produced by: Michael Beinhorn & Soundgarden
Recorded: Bad Animals Studio, Seattle, July–September 1993
Track Listing Group Musicians
Let Me Drown
My Wave
Fell on Black Days
Mailman
Superunknown
Head Down
Black Hole Sun
Spoonman
Limo Wreck
The Day I Tried to Live
Kickstand
Fresh Tendrils
4th of July
Half
Like Suicide
Chris Cornell – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Kim Thayil – Guitars
Ben Shepherd – Bass, Vocals
Matt Cameron – Drums, Percussion, Synths

Superunknown by Soundgarden

 

The crisp, rhythm-driven rocker “Let Me Drown” opens the album on an upbeat note but doesn’t contain much variation or movement beyond that. “My Wave” is much better, albeit with the same basic vibe. Guitarist Kim Thayil provides a rotating trance during song proper with odd timings during the chorus hooks and an ending with partially psychedelic section. “My Wave” was released as a single and peaked at number 11 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.

Soundgarden in 1994

“Fell on Black Days” is the gem of the early part of the album. It is at once an illustration of the better part of 90s grunge rock and the greater overall post-Beatles hard rock sound. Written by Cornell, it contains a riff in the time signature of 6/4 while the drums of Matt Cameron are straight 4/4, giving it an unsettling but adventurous feel. Cameron wrote “Mailman”, which contains extraordinarily slow riffing during the verses in a kind of droning, but seems to fall short of reaching its intended effect. The title song “Superunknown” changes thing up quite a bit with a more like upbeat, blues rock and anthemic feel. Written by bassist Ben Shepherd, “Head Down” begins with a calm acoustic that is soon joined by doomy arrangement, making for a very interesting and rewarding start. The song latter dissolves into odd drum section by guest Gregg Keplinger, which ends the song awkwardly.

“Black Hole Sun” is the quintessential Soundgarden song, due to the masterful guitar phrases by Thayil and the exquisite composition by Cornell. The effect is a totally unique and cool sound as Cameron holds the song together while Thayil and Shepherd play the slow riffs of the verses. The song topped the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and stayed there for a total of seven weeks. “Spoonman” is a great riff-driven rocker, with fantastic, soaring vocals by Cornell and plenty of percussive candy throughout. The song was named for Artis the Spoonman, a street performer from Seattle who also performed on the recording, and is the last really great song on the album.

The latter part of the album is less impressive than the earlier part, with a few odd tracks standing out. “Limo Wreck” is an odd yet entertaining waltz rocker with riffing by Thayil and Cameron during the intro and great soulful singing by Cornell, which only gets better as the song grows in intensity. “The Day I Tried to Live” has an intense bass riff, which matched in intensity by all other band members except for drummer Cameron, who kind of stays slow and steady throughout. “Kickstand” is a very short and frantic rocker with not much substance, while “Fresh Tendrils” is built on open riffing and trance-like sounds and features Natasha Shneider on clavinet. This is followed by a couple of weird, de-tuned tracks, the acid-influenced “4th of July”, and the calm but measured “Half”, which features Shepherd on lead vocals along with a viola and cello.

Superunknown debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 and sold over a quarter million copies in its opening week. “Spoonman” and “Black Hole Sun” won Grammy Awards in 1995 and the album ultimately sold over 9 million copies worldwide.

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1994 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1994 albums.