Reprinted without permission from Hit Parader, September 1996

by Wynn Learner

Of all the bands that emerged from the now-legendary "Seattle Scene" of the early '90s, no group has been able to keep the public's focus squarely on their music better than Soundgarden. Face it, when one mentions the name Alice In Chains, thoughts invariably drift to the lingering drug problems of Layne Staley. Pearl Jam has become virtually synonymous with internal strife and wars with Ticketmaster. Nirvana, unfortunately, conjures up instant images of the tragedy that was Kurt Cobain. Only Soundgarden has somehow managed to keep their heads screwed on tight enough to avoid the varied pitfalls that have consumed - to varying degrees - their Emerald City brethren.

Never has the band's musical focus been clearer than with the release of their latest album, Down On The Upside, a rocking, rollicking celebration of all that is great about Soundgarden and the music they play. With the Chains unable to tour, and the Jammers in virtual seclusion, it has been left up to vocalist Chris Cornell, guitarist Kim Thayil, bassist Ben Shepherd and drummer Matt Cameron to carry on the still potent Seattle gauntlet, and carry it they have! While the band members would be the first to reject the notion that they are somehow maintaining the flagging credibility of their city's music scene, they do acknowledge that they seem to have emerged as survivors in rock and roll's always dangerous game of attention.

"Yeah, I guess we are kind of the guys who are out there," Thayil said. "But it's not like we planned it that way. It just sort of happened. I'd love to see all those bands get it together and get back on the road. It would be great. Hopefully by now people will stop making comparisons between bands and just start accepting everyone for what they are - both good and bad. There was never any competition between the bands in Seattle, though the press always seemed like they wanted there to be. We haven't seen a lot of those guys for a long time - too long. We wish everyone the best. All that seems like it's ancient history to us. We've moved beyond that."

Move beyond, indeed! Throughout Down On The Upside Soundgarden continually push their musical talents to the limit, taking bold creative chances and daring artisitc leaps-of-faith. The results, as exhibited on such songs as Ty Cobb and Pretty Noose mark this unit as one of rock's most inventive units - one of the decades true rock and roll champions. While strains of such earlier platinum efforts as Superunknown and Badmotorfinger can be heard running throughout the band's latest project, there's little question that this time around Soundgarden has taken off their musical blinders and boldly stepped into a new and challenging artistic terrain. By doing so, they have emerged with a disc that is startling in terms of both its unrelenting power and its creative scope.

"I really don't compare albums," Cornell explained. "There's really no point in trying to say that this album represents one thing and the last one represented another. Each thing you do should be viewed on its own - yet part of some evolving creative process. You don't think back on your previous albums when you're writing or recording a new one - it just doesn't work that way. It's been more than two years since we made the last record, and a lot happens in everyone's life during that period of time. You grow, you change, you mature. If that's not reflected in the music you make then something is really wrong."

Apparently there's nothing wrong in Soundgarden's musical world these days. Even Cornell's oft-discussed vocal problems, which had caused the band to cancel part of their 1994 American tour, seem to be little more than distant memories. The vocalist has never sounded better, or stronger, than he does throughout Down On The Upside, and Cornell scoffs at any notion that he's been advised to "take it easy" once Soundgarden returns to the rock and roll tour trail. This is a guy who only knows one way to sing - full out. And he'll be damned if he's ever going to change that for anyone or anything. His attitude seems to be that if he blows his voice out again, so be it.

"It's not something that I even think about any more," Cornell said. "It was a problem and it's not a problem now. That's really all I can say about it. I've seen the doctors, I took the time off, and they say that my voice is as good as it ever was. Of course, the doctors always tend to stay on the side of caution. I think that's their job. They're not about to tell me that if I keep putting the kind of strain I put on voice on a nightly basis that it's going to last forever. But I'm not gonna worry about it. So far things have been great. I haven't changed the way I sing, basically because I don't know how to sing any other way. And I don't want to change the way I sing. I just want to stand in front of a microphone and sing as hard and as loud as I can."

It seems certain that with Soundgarden kicking off their world tour as co-headliners with Metallica of this year's Lollapalooza Festival, Cornell will have plenty of opportunities to put his voice to the ultimate test. Already in addition to their lengthy Lollapalooza outing, the band has booked a year-long road sojourn that will carry them throughout Euprope and the Orient before they return to American soil for a full-length tour of their own in the late fall. It certainly appears as if it's going to be a busy time for the Soundgarden crew, and these guys couldn't be happier about getting back to what they love to do.

"When we had to cancel part of our last tour because of Chris' voice, I think we all realized how tenuous all of this is," Thayil said. "We also realized how much it all means to us. When you're out there, caught up in it on a daily basis, you really don't have the time to really consider what you're doing and how important it is to you in so many different levels. When it suddenly and unexpectedly stops, you do begin to realize that. We realized how much we care about this band, the music we make and each other. I think that attitude is reflected throughout the new album, and it'll carry over the stage show as well. It's gonna be a very special time for everyone involved."