My reviews of Soundgarden albums. They’re rather brief, not really sure why.
1988: Ultramega OK (8/10)
Chris Cornell apparently didn’t like the production of their debut and I must say that, as someone who is really familiar with their ’90s efforts, this doesn’t sound like Soundgarden to me. Even Cornell himself doesn’t quite sound like himself. I’m not sure how much that can be blamed on the production, how much it can be blamed on changes in lineups and how much it can be blamed on the band members getting better at writing songs. Anyway…
I’ve always been amused when Kim Thayll claims that Soundgarden hated metal. I think he hated contemporary metal but clearly these guys just loved early metal (i.e. what might now call “hard rock” or even “classic rock). There are only a few American bands from the 1980s I can think of this in love with the British metal scene of the late ’60s and early ’70s. Fortunately they like other forms of music as well – hardcore punk in particular – which makes them sound much more like an alternative rock band than The Cult. There’s also a lot of musical competence here for a band influenced by punk and I think at least some of that has to be credited to Yamamoto, who is a pretty fantastic bass player.
The songs are not as strong or as consistent as on later records. And though I obviously cannot say whether or not the production managed to capture what they did actually sound like in 1988, I can say that the band absolutely got more ambitious in its arrangements later on, which further differentiated them from most of the other grunge bands. I definitely like later Soundgarden better, but there are aspects of this album I enjoy which disappeared later, so it’s nice to listen to it.
I also feel like there weren’t too many bands that sounded like this in 1988 – more metal than the other grunge and alternative rock bands and way more punk than any of the metal bands. (The more I think about it, the more I think about Jane’s Addiction as about the only comparable at the time, but they obviously sound very different on account of their unique lead singer, among other things.)
1989: Louder Than Love (???)
Somehow I have still never listened to this. Read my reviews of music from 1989.
1991: Badmotorfinger (9/10)
Superunknown was the record that introduced me to Soundgarden so, for years, it was my favourite, and I refused to fully see the virtues of this record.
But this record is a pretty near-perfect combination of the things that made made Soundgarden and grunge in general so compelling: an alternative aesthetic, but with the conventions of classic rock (in this case, old school metal, for the most part).
The older I get, the more I think this is probably their best record, and certainly one of the main documents of grunge and early ’90s American alternative rock. It’s maybe not their very best set of songs (it might be, though…) but it’s a little more “alternative” than their world-conquering follow up.
1994: Superunknown (9/10)
This is the first Soundgarden album I ever heard so maybe that’s why it remains my favourite. I know among really serious fans of the band this is often viewed as a bit of a sell-out or concession to the mainstream, but for me this is the band at the peak of their powers; their strongest set of songs – an onslaught of memorable riffs – combined with a (slight) stretching of their sound into things other than the punk-metal hybrid thing.
Maybe I need to listen to their earliest stuff, but of the Ben Sheppard-era, I take this over the other records any day. [Except, maybe, the day I wrote the review of Badmotorfinger.]
1996: Down on the Upside (7/10)
Unfortunately the songwriting isn’t as strong as the last two. It’s still as clean as the last one, too, which isn’t so good. But it’s still solid stuff. It’s not like they suddenly turned into a post-grunge band or something. It would be really something if the songwriting were as consistent as their last two outings.
I guess that’s as much as I can say.
2012: King Animal (???)
Another band where I haven’t listened to the reunion album. Read my reviews of 2012 albums.