Reprinted without permission from Guitar World, February 2001


When a Seattle record store owner lost an eye in a tragic accident in 1992, Soundgarden offered to pay for a glass artificial eye if he would agree to have the Badmotorfinger logo displayed on it. The band was joking (although they did help pay the man's expenses). But if, in the early Nineties, you had to have the Badmotorfinger logo staring out from your eye socket, you would have suffered no shame or embarrassment.

Released the same fall as Nirvana's Nevermind and Pearl Jam's Ten, Badmotorfinger was the purest hard rock album of the trio in that Soundgarden made no pretense about the fact they were trying to sound like Led Zeppelin. They weren't just Zeppelin wannabes -- by this album they had finally honed their own trademark sound -- but Chris Cornell's singing is so Plant-esque in range, you would have thought Robert had gone brunette. Badmotorfinger was Soundgarden's second major-label album, fourth overall, and it marked the first time they created a recording as powerful and dynamic as their live show. Like Zeppelin, it makes you want to shake your head.

But the power of Badmotorfinger comes in that it also appeals to what's inside your skull, and hard rock has rarely been as smart. From Cornell's magnificent lyrics, which have inspired numerous covers (even Johnny Cash did "Rusty Cage") and served as movie titles (Feeling Minnesota, from the song "Outshined"), to Thayil's tasteful and underplayed guitar parts, this is thinking-man's metal. Perhaps the best explanation for Soundgarden's uniqueness came from Thayil when he described the genesis of the band to Guitar World: "We were allowed to evolve naturally, independent of commercial pressures and various media trends. We just did our own thing."

And though this was smart rock, Soundgarden were one of the few bands lucky enough to have it both ways: Badmotorfinger became their first Platinum record, pushed to the top of the charts because even suburban kids who had never read the philosophy books Thayil favored in college knew this sounded great in their cars. From the opening chords of "Rusty Cage" to the final notes of "New Damage," Soundgarden and producer Terry Date strive for and achieve grandiosity in all things: big drums, big voice, big bass, and a big guitar sound. Recording Badmotorfinger mostly in a barn outside of Seattle, they hit a hard rock homerun, particularly on "Jesus Christ Pose" and "Slaves and Bulldozers." For this later cut, Thayil blows air on the guitar strings for one section, but the sound, like the rest of his playing, is so unusual that it almost seems like an illusion. And that's not even mentioning the powerful "Searching With My Good Eye Closed," which, as you'd suspect, is the favorite Badmotorfinger track of a certain record store owner in Seattle.