Reprinted with permission from Niki Freer
Led Zepplin, the Grateful Dead, Black Sabbath, and Pink Floyd: big name bands with lots of hits and lots of fans. These are the kind of bands greatest hits albums are ususally associated with, not someone like Soundgarden. Though Soundgarden truly was an icon of their era, with Top 40-culture populaity suprisingly gained in "Black Hole Sun" and "Burden In My Hand," their greatest hits compilation has left my mouth tasting slightly sour.
Soundgarden always seem like the beast that was given too little to eat. Underappreciated and under-rated, they roared and groaned and screamed uniquely only to be given a, "Sorry, maybe next time!" each time they were nominated for a Grammy Award. They were the hunger and the fight behind what became "grunge" and the Seattle scene, and deserved to be recognized as such. I guess this is A&M's attempt at doing just that.
A-sides is beautiful in its artwork, classic pictures and subtlty running rampant; but the songs are merely the singles they released from 1984 to 1997. You've got your "Outshined" and the ever-present "Black Hole Sun," along with some older tunes like "Get On The Snake" and "Nothing to Say" that a semi-fan may not have heard. There are some purely magnificent songs on this compilation, such as "Loud Love" and "Flower," that almost make up for the bad transitions from one song to the next. Unfortunately, the album becomes disorientating very quickly. A song like "Rusty Cage" just should not be followed up with something like "Spoonman." "Pretty Noose" does not sit comfortably between "Fell On Black Days" and "Burden In My Hand." The overall effect is jarring.
The inclusion of "Bleed Together," a song previously available only in the UK and Australia as a b-side, is the brightest star on this album. Breath-takingly upbeat and breakneck fast, it's a breath of fresh air for 'garden fans that have been dying for something new.
But even with "Bleed Together" on the release, plenty of fans are still wondering, "Where is 'Beyond the Wheel'? What about 'Big Dumb Sex'? Whatever happened to 'Hunted Down'?" So many powerful songs that were not singles have been overlooked for A-sides that the idea that it is a "Best Of" album seems downright ludicrious. In some respects, the songs that didn't make this album shine more brilliant and more profound that anything on A-sides. In the liner notes written by Sub Pop's Jonathan Poneman, it says, "How can you possibly fit all of the coolest stuff onto one album? It simply can't be done." Truer words were never spoken.
So, if you're interested in breaking your rusty cage, then blowing up the outside world without changing the CD, then A-sides is just the thing for you. Chris, Kim, Ben, Matt, and Hiro (Yamamoto, original bassist) had a darn good idea with A-sides, and the fact that A&M decided they were great enough to have it produced and released is applause well deserved, but in the end it just doesn't cover all corners. But fear not, the Soundgarden beast will be back next year, according to Kim, weilding a b-sides or live album as their machette of choice. Anticipating that release makes this one much, much sweeter.