Reprinted without permission from Hit Parader, December 1996

by Alex Reynolds

Chris Cornell has heard all the talk. He's read all the comments. He's picked up on all the whispers. Over and over again, whether he wants it or not, Soundgarden's charismatic vocalist has been made aware that there's a segment of rock society which remains convinced that his band's latest album, Down On The Upside, is just too heavy, just too uncompromising, just too non-commercial. It all makes the dark haired Cornell smile. After all, despite all of its alleged "flaws", the group's new disc has already managed to sell over two million copies, generate a hit single in Pretty Noose and become one of the most critically praised collections of 1996. Somewhat ironically, the fact is that he fully agrees with the assessment of those who view Upside as heavy, uncompromising and non-commercial. As it happens, that's just the way Soundgarden wanted it to be.

"The roughness that people hear on this album wasn't a point of making a dirtier, more street version of what we usually do," he said. "It was just about getting more accurate with recording. Something about this record seems more sonically direct, possibly less larger than life than what we've done on previous records. The kick drum sounds less like a gun shot off in a gymnasium and more like a drum. To my ears what you hear in these songs is the closest we've ever gotten to capturing the 'true' sound of Soundgarden."

Perhaps Cornell is somewhat prejudiced towards the sounds gathered on Soundgarden's latest disc since he and bandmates Kim Thayil, Matt Cameron and Ben Shepherd decided to make Down On the Upside their first stab at solo production. By not having an extra set of studio ears around, the band was able to streamline their sound and go for a "more live feel", according to Cornell. But, at the same time, there are those who insist that without a producer's hand to guide them and whisper occasional creative snippet into the band's collective ear, Soundgarden has wandered too far from the style that helped make their previous disc, Superunknown an international smash. Those critics will ask, "Where's this album's Black Hole Sun? Where is the cross-over hit?" Once again, as one might imagine, Cornell scoffs at such a notion.

"Year by year, and record by record, we have gone through this process of trying to dial into what we want to hear ourselves sound like at that moment," he said. "People always say that they're surprised by the turns we take, that they didn't expect them. And I always to say, 'I never expected anything, why should you?' We never have a specific idea what our records are going to sound like when they're done, so why should anyone else? It all seems kind of strange to me. You can't just dial up a hit, or dial up a song that captures the imagination of everyone. It's something that just happens. maybe that is on the album -- maybe it's not. If it isn't, that really doesn't bother us."

Let's face it. Why should Cornell or any of his Soundgarden cohorts give a rat's behind about what anyone else might think about their latest studio creation? The reality of the situation is that Down On The Upside has already proven to be a major success, an effort that has added additional luster to the group's already glistening reputation. And, if that wasn't enough, its chart-topping credentials allowed the band to appear throughout the summer on the prestigious Lollapalooza tour package where they held the co-headlining spot right underneath Metallica. And now, after undertaking an equally-successful headlining road jaunt through Europe, Soundgarden are planning their own arena tour of the States. No one in their right mind can deny that all-in-all 1996 has been quite a year for these already-legendary Seattle rockers.

"We've had a really good year," Thayil said. "The response to the album was even greater than we could have hoped for, then the chance to be part of this year's Lollapalooza was more exciting than we anticipated. Sometimes I've been asked if we minded being listed under Metallica on the tour, and my answer is always the same; why would anyone mind sharing a bill with a great band like that? We got the chance to hear them play every night! It was a truly unique experience to be on a tour with so many great bands and to be part of such a well-planned and multi-dimensional tour package. We've done things like that before, but it was just a little different, a little better, this time around."

On their current road trek Soundgarden have been over-whelming their nightly sold-out audiences with both their eclectic blend of old and new material and their over-the-top stage energy. Such new tunes as Ty Cobb and Overfloater have drawn the same kind of frenzied fan response as such classic band tracks as Spoonman and Black Hole Sun, creating a two-hour stage spectacular that has left both the band and their following totally drained at each show's conclusion. While major concern had been voiced in some industry circles about the condition of Cornell's oft-troubled voice at tour's start, after nearly six months on the road, where he's given his vocal chords an unrelenting workout at every performance, there seems to be little lingering doubt that the singer's pipes are as strong as ever.

"Chris has been fine," a band insider revealed. "I don't really know for sure, and I don't want this to be taken the wrong way, but I think he may have been a little more worried about this voice than he ever let on to any of us. It's one thing to sing in the studio on a new album - which is certainly difficult enough - and another thing entirely to go on tour and have to sing non-stop for two hours every night. But he's never sounded better or been happier about the way things have gone." And they have every reason to be content. Soundgarden is the type of band that really only knows one way of doing things, and that's full-out. They've been pouring everything they have into each show, both on Lollapalooza and on their own, and it's obvious how much the fans have loved it. "The response has been just incredible. I know it's made everyone in the band feel great."