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. This fifth studio album by the band features music which is much more experimental than on previous Soundgarden releases as it utilizes expanded instrumentation, more complex harmonies, layered guitar textures and ambitious compositional 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 1996 albums.

 

Bringing Down the Horse
by The Wallflowers

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Bringing Down The Horse by The WallflowersThe Wallflowers struck a fine chord with their second LP, Bringing Down the Horse. The songs on the album were all composed by front man Jakob Dylan and the musical arrangements featured an array of acoustic instrumentation – including 6-string acoustic guitar, banjo, dobro and pedal steel – complementing the core “electric” rock timbres and rhythms. In all, this roots rock sound led to much critical and commercial success as the album went triple platinum and was nominated for multiple Grammy awards.

The group was formed in New York in 1988 by Dylan and guitarist Tobi Miller, originally using the name “The Apples”. The group went through several lineup migrations, with keyboardist Rami Jaffee joining in 1990 after the group migrated to Los Angeles and changed their name to The Wallflowers. The following year the group was signed to Virgin Records and released their self-titled debut in 1992. While reviews for the album were mostly positive, sales were slow and soon the group split with Virgin and reverted back to playing LA-area clubs. During this time, Greg Richling became the group’s permanent bassist while drummer Peter Yanowitz departed, leaving the group without a full-time drummer. Still, The Wallflowers signed with Interscope Records and began preparing for their second album.

After the group sent demos to several producers, T Bone Burnett was impressed and agreed to produce the album. Burnett enlisted Matt Chamberlain on drums throughout the recording sessions as well as several other guest musicians and backing vocalists to help enrich the group’s sound. Due to the long duration between the band’s first and second albums, songs on Bringing Down the Horse were composed over a long span, dating back to the late 1980s.


Bringing Down the Horse by The Wallflowers
Released: May 21, 1996 (Interscope)
Produced by: T Bone Burnett
Recorded: Sunset Sound, Groove Masters, & O’Henry Sound Studios, Los Angeles, Brooklyn Studios, Brooklyn, NY, 1994-1996
Album Tracks Primary Musicians
One Headlight
6th Avenue Heartache
Bleeders
Three Marlenas
The Difference
Invisible City
Laughing Out Loud
Josephine
God Don’t Make Lonely Girls
Angel On My Bike
I Wish I Felt Nothing
Jakob Dylan – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Michael Ward – Guitars
Rami Jaffee – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Greg Richling – Bass
Matt Chamberlain – Drums
 
Bringing Down the Horse by The Wallflowers

The album begins with its two biggest commercial and radio hits. “One Headlight” marches in with a steady, rhythmic thump, accented by alternating licks from Jaffee’s Hammond B3 organ and the lead guitar of guest Jon Brion. The song’s title was inspired by the band’s leaner days, when they were able to move on in spite of less than stellar support. Methodical and melodic throughout, this song was an instant classic in the late nineties and remains so today. “6th Avenue Heartache” dates back to the band’s earliest days and was written by Dylan in 1988 about a homeless man on his street. Musically, Mike Campbell (of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers) provides the perfect lead guitar above the simple, acoustic and bluesy rhythm of the song. Repetitive to be sure, but to great effect as this song never seems to linger too long.

“Bleeders” features a bright acoustic and is upbeat but not over the top. Later there is an interesting duo organ/guitar lead during the short bridge. “Three Marlenas” is built on three basic strummed chords, which set the scene for Dylan’s folk-like storytelling about basic domestic situations and multiple personalities. “The Difference” was another hit as an upbeat, frenzied rocker with a distinct guitar riff and good harmonies through the pre-choruses, with Richling’s bass assuming control during the track’s driving choruses. “Invisible City” is a slow ballad with Dylan’s subtle acoustic contrasting Chamberlain’s up-front drum beat, while “Laughing Out Loud” features twangy guitars and folksy pop/rock lyrics and melodies.

The Wallflowers in 1996

“Josephine” brings things back down as a slow ballad with differing soundscapes and levels of intensity for mood effect. Ward provides a short but excellent bluesy guitar lead and reprise during the outtro. Alternating back uptempo, “God Don’t Make Lonely Girls” is Southern-flavored rock. “Angel on My Bike” is the best candidate for an accessible hit song late in the album as it features all The Wallflower special ingredients – strummed acoustic, ethereal electric, Hammond organ, thumping bass, animated drums and melodic and catchy vocals. The piano lead makes this a bit different than earlier songs as well as the good musical interludes and overall vibe, which is at once melancholy and celebrational. For the closer, “I Wish I Felt Nothing”, the group goes full-fledged country/waltz with Leo LeBlanc adding a fantastic pedal steel slide, giving the song some real flavor and completing this fine album on a sweet note.

Bringing Down the Horse reached the Top 10 in both the US and Canada and it remains the group’s highest-selling album to date. Following its release, The Wallflowers toured extensively and their popularity continued to ascend for several years leading up to the new millennium.

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1996 music celebration image

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1996 albums.