Reprinted with permission from the author
SOUNDGARDEN -- SUPERUNKNOWN
Because I'm old enough to have screamed "alright!" for Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath the first time around, I dismissed most of the early grunge I heard with a casual "I've been there, I know the way." What was the point?--after all, I could whet my hard rock jones with any number of punk-derived bands. Besides, I was sick of the "latest scenes" forever being shoved down my throat: from Athens to Manchester, they usually consisted of one or two great bands, a handful of memorable singles and a shitload of dross, well-intentioned or otherwise.
So a little confession: unlike a lot of people obviously smarter than me, I doubt I've heard or even wanted to hear ten songs combined by Alice in Chains, Mudhoney, TAD and the band with the great name: Soundgarden. Until now.
Cos Superunknown is a monumental, colossal, hard-rock gem from start to finish. For me, it ranks with such mainstream masterpieces like Rocks or Use Your Illusion II. It combines headbanging power with a sense of songwriting that probably comes only with, um, er, maturity.
The depth and detail of the arrangements are astonishing: the slide guitar in "My Wave," the vocal tricks in "Spoonman" and "Head Down," the way "Black Hole Sun" continually unfurls, and the whole title track, which is as good as it gets, especially the way the chorus gathers momentum with every screaming repeat. Alive in the superunknown, indeed.
It goes without saying that the entire band simply kicks ass throughout--Kim Thayil's riffs hook and his solos cook, Ben Shepard's psychedelic songs provide pacing and Matt Cameron does the big Bonham thing. And Chris Cornell . . . what can I say? I was wrong. Nothing I hate more than the cliched big rock singer with the cliched hair and the cliched tenor singing the same old cliches. Which is what I had previously and stupidly dismissed Cornell as being. And while "Seasons" (from the Singles soundtrack) shoulda tipped me off, I wasn't prepared for the range and emotion he brings to nearly every song here.
I realize it might seem strange and/or stupid to discover (and gush over) such an obviously major band at this point in their career, but that's the way the music scene is anymore: there are more potentially worthwhile bands than there is time, and you gotta make life-long value judgements based on miniscule amounts of information. So even though the advance word on Superunknown was strong, I approached it with trepidation. And I was rewarded with the year's most pleasant surprise.
So now I guess I gotta go back and dig up a couple of their eariler records to see whether they've gotten more focused or whether I've suddenly found the ears to hear them. I'd be pleased if it was the latter but I'll bet its the former: after all, a garden is where things grow.