Review Summary: A defining moment of the 1990's6 of 7 thought this review was well written
Chris Cornell-Lead vocals, rhythm guitar
Kim Thayil-lead guitar
Ben Shepherd-bass guitar, backing vocals
Remember when you were 8 years old? Because I sure do. It was fun to just hang out with your friends, make macaroni sculptures in art class, and wear flannel shirts every day because grunge was in session! At least when I was 8 it was. Before I heard this album I pretty much only listened to Abbey Road and Dark Side of the Moon because I loved the album covers and well, they were the only records I could reach on the shelf. But one day, my epic dad who has epic musical taste and introduced me to half the bands I listen to today, came home with a record that would change my life forever (this whole thing would happen again with OK Computer when I was 12: that album has a bajillion reviews though. Let's just run with it!). The album cover was intriguing, and to this day I don't know what the hell it is. But let me tell you something-when I was 8 years old, Soundgarden's "Superunknown" completely revolutionized music for me. Alice in Chains, the recently disbanded Nirvana, and Pearl Jam all made their way into my CD player and boy was I hooked on grunge.
Soundgarden makes it immediately apparent that they are not your typical grunge band. The most obvious example of this comes with the instrumental aspect of their music. Yes, Chris Cornell's lyrics are typically angsty and regretful like most '90s alternative bands, but the 3 guys rocking out behind him go along with the lyrics in odd guitar tunings and time signatures of 15/8 (a time signature which is actually used for a few bars in "Limo Wreck"). All the band members work together to make a unique and incredible sound, whereas Nirvana was basically the Kurt show and Pearl Jam revolves around Eddie Vedder's incoherent mumbling (love both those bands to death though). The bass is a very prominent part of the album, as Ben Shepherd, the bassist, is one of the driving forces behind the band's musical compositions. "Head Down" is a 6-minute track composed and performed entirely by Shepherd with the exception of Kim Thayil playing guitar. While at first listen it may seem like a filler bridging the gap between the two best tracks on the album (the title track and Black Hole Sun) there is a lot more in there to be heard. Listen to it through a good pair of earphones: you'll pick up bizarre new feelings in the song you never knew were there.
As with most alternative bands, the vocals are probably the most obvious pro to Soundgarden's insane approach to grunge. Chris Cornell is one of my favorite vocalists ever: and while Badmotorfinger may still be a better album for him vocally, he was still in his prime when this album hit the stores. Cornell's performances on the sorrowful "Fell on Black Days" and the fast, aggressive "Let Me Drown" are two of his shining moments and cement him as an incredible rock vocalist. Kim Thayil is an incredibly capable guitarist, carrying drop-D solos like nobody's business and dropping an incredible solo about 5 minutes into "Like Suicide". His riff on the title track and use of the Leslie Speaker on "Black Hole Sun" are two amazing techniques I wish I heard more often in music-goodness, I don't think anyone had used a Leslie speaker since Jimmy Page. He's also great at just playing along with the band-check out his guitar parts on "My Wave" or "Mailman". Ben Shepherd is a kick-ass bassist and even better songwriter. His sludgy bass line on "Let Me Drown" tells the listener immediately that they're in store for something like nothing they've ever heard. His two (practically) solo compositions on the album, "Head Down" and "Half", aren't exactly standout tracks but are definitely amazing if you're listening to the album as a whole. He also has an amazing bass part on "The Day I Tried to Live" and his aggressive technique on the 90-second freakshow known as "Kickstand" is equally impressive. And the drumming. Oh my, the drumming. Matt Cameron is both a member of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, and I have to say that Soundgarden is the only band currently using him to his full potential. This guy is freaking amazing! He handles crazy time signatures like nobody's business and is able to make the simplest things sound mind-boggling. Maybe the way his playing just compliments the brooding guitars and churning bass riffs makes it sound all the better-but I don't care. The guy's an incredible drummer. I especially love his drum parts on "My Wave", "Spoonman" and "Like Suicide". "Spoonman" is probably the most obvious example of Cameron's prowess, featuring a 7/4 riff with pots & pans being utilized as well as a regular drum kit.
This band brought a new approach to music into my head and I was devastated that the grunge movement ended by the time I was 10, but "Superunknown" will forever have a lasting effect on my childhood and all the good memories of my lifetime.
Standout Tracks (asterisk signifies best song):
Let Me Drown
Fell on Black Days
Black Hole Sun
4th of July