Reprinted without permission from New Musical Express, November 1, 1997
Soundgarden / A-Sides (rating: 7)
They were hairy, sure, but they wore Seattle lumberjack chic. They played what is euphemistically known as 'heavy rock', but eschewed widdly metal solos for Black Sabbath juddering. On occasion, they would place a scarf over their collective lamp and sound a bit like Smashing Pumpkins - well before the Pumpkins did. Soundgarden (who disintegrated last April after ten years and seven albums) were the metal band it was OK, cool even, to like.
And this near-complete compilation of singles will remind you why. It's a lengthy chronological churn through the 'Garden's career that highlights the early SST and Sub Pop singles over some of their later, post-Superunknown, stuff. And, as such, you can almost hear the precise moment when the drummer-swapping and multiplying production budgets turned them from disaffected chord manglers to sleek stadium-bound juggernauts.
Basically, Soundgarden were ace because they sounded like Sabbath on downers (check the 'Nothing To Say' track on debut EP 'Screaming Life' - a seriously heavy statement-of-intent) and, increasingly, a stripped-down Led Zeppelin (witness Chris Cornell's vocals on the early 'Loud Love' through to their breakthrough 'Jesus Christ Pose' single and beyond). Having mastered the required Robert Plant bellow, Cornell eventually found his voice in the post-Kurt soulful rasp that scrapes through the very best of the hits: the cheery 'Black Hole Sun', 'Fell On Black Days' and 'Burden In My Hand'.
Essentially, they had all rock bases covered - with dour intelligence and an innovative lack of cock-rock inanity. Alice In Chains, they were not. But things did get strange towards the end with 'Blow Up The Outside World''s quiet/loud formula sounding not unlike Bush, and 'Ty Cobb''s wigged-out country speed-metal schizophrenia.
The very last track is 'Bleed Together', which appeared as a UK B-side to 'Burden', and is included here to, um, foreshadow what could have been. For a band who never had much truck with such fripperies, it races along almost melodically. It's the sound of a band not so much losing its way as tiring of the template, which suggests that Cornell and moody guitarist Kim Thayil have a few more sounds left in their respective back years. Watch this space.