Reprinted without permission from Melody Maker,
February 15, 1992
THE SPECTRUM, TORONTO
It's a hormone thing. Adolescent white males breed a demand for relentless, tuneless guitar music the way their dirty socks breed odour. After all, the perennial recurrence of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath can't be just some karmic punishment for the rest of us. Mind-numbingly slow and massively simple, it's like a rock formation, impressive in its sheer scale.
Soundgarden are proof positive that things are looking up at this end of the market. Even when they were under 50, previous purveyors of this noise couldn't seem to stop themselves tarting it up beyond endurance with little devil's-horn hand signs and brickies-in-eyeliner paunch. Ain't none of that guff here. Guaranteed pomp-free, Soundgarden are unselfconsciously efficient, technically skilled in the use of big and dangerous machinery. They roll up their sleeves and get to work with a minimum of fuss.
Here in Rush's home town, a thoughtful audience of connoisseurs greets Seattle's hottest melody-free band. A small sweating moshpit aside (and let's face it, on a cold January night, 17 year-old boys will crowd-surf to just about anything), it's a quietly appreciative packed house. Leather jackets, arms folded, getting right into the tricksy time signatures and Soundgarden's patented muso-for-hairies fluidity.
Happy, maybe, for a night off from the Guns N'Roses tour, vocalist Chris Cornell fights off the flu with good humour and gives up an anecdote about the virtues of the pre-gig bowel movement. He even teases the punters with an innocent "How about some older songs? How about "When the Levee Breaks"?" and then demurs, "Nah, not that fucking old!" Even if everyone sings along to the chorus of "Big Dumb Sex" blissfully unaware of its intended irony, you can take comfort in the thought that Cornell and company are, at least, less misogynist than the company they keep.
And after a while your ears start to catch the subtleties, for indeed they exist. The sadness of "Room a Thousand Years Wide"; the minimalist near-delicacy of "Mind Riot"; the strange shifts in "Gun", like tuning between three radio stations. I count myself lucky for a chance metalhead companion who identifies a cover of Sabbath's "Into the Void" and concludes that Soundgarden, like, make the grade: "They're powerful, and they're effective". Which rather makes them sound like a blemish cream, but...
If teenage boys and their musical preferences will, like the poor, always be with us, look for bands with brains bigger than egos.