Soundgarden’s two previous gems; 'Badmotorfinger' and 'Superunknown' were creative, consistent and conceivably crucial albums of the 1990’s. It must have been difficult crafting a follow-up whilst continuing to fulfil their legacy, proved so by their downfall and split which occurred soon after this 1996 album, an album which would inevitably face criticism from many grunge purists, as it was after the death of Kurt Cobain. Let's hope it was worth it...
The result is... it was. More often than not, this album screams how great and comparable it is to their two previous masterpieces. With 'Pretty Noose' establishing the sentiment that they are still as good as they ever with Cornell's lyrics, killer guitar lines and the compelling uncertainty regarding what style they will unravel next. 'Rhinosaur' also complements this; boasting fierce song with an even fiercer solo. Other faster tempo songs on this album include 'Dusty', and 'Ty Cobb' which contains an interesting contrast of mild Mandolin and a bona fidé Soundgarden onslaught. 'Burden in My Hand' is unmistakably Soundgarden. This. Song. Is. Solid.
One of the hidden gems, an erratic and philosophical puzzlebox of a song, is ‘Never The Machine Forever’ maintaining an influence from their 1991 album. The short, fast song 'Never Named' has an awesome chorus with throwaway, b-side verses. 'An Unkind' is a rewarding deeper cut which is simple yet effective and alternative in its core. Most of the slower songs are memorable. The tender 'Zero Chance' is a keeper as much as it is embracing; this song is tolerable melancholia at its finest. The short closer 'Boot Camp' perfectly preserves the conclusion, with Chris Cornell’s sheer desperation when he winces “There must be something else...” The mid-ballad 'Blow up the outside World' is the ballad-meets-epic-chorus track of the album; it even contains the element of slightly overstaying. 'Tighter and Tighter' is also representative of this, but to a lesser extent. The song 'Applebite' is an ‘all-production’d-out’ groove reminiscent of Led Zeppelin’s ‘No Quarter’ and packing a dumb, brooding melody. ‘Overfloater’ is also righteous and memorable, if not inconveniently placed at the end of the album, when many listeners are arguably fed up of slower-paced songs.
One problem with the album is that it could be a lot shorter whilst still containing their signature killer music. As well as trimming down one of two songs, the tracks 'No Attention' and 'Dusty', although respectively good, one showcasing a rebellious side and the other reminiscent of their previous album, feel simply like throwaway tracks when thrown into the multitude mix that this album possesses.
Overall, this is not their best or most memorable album by a long shot but it is still undoubtedly Soundgarden. Most of their amazing attributes are still ever-present and this album also has a more comfortable feel, for better or for worse, probably induced by the band self producing. The album has mature moments as well as youthful flickers and even if it does show too much than initially expected or even wanted, their awesome cause and purpose as a group was certainly left intact.