Down on the Upside

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This was released when grunge was losing its popularity, but this “commercial disappointment” still went platinum several times over. Although this album is cleaner and less heavy on the whole than previous efforts, lyrics such as “only happy when you hurt” (from the standout album track “Rhinosaur”) show that the band hasn’t softened up too much. In fact, songs such as the lead single “Pretty Noose,” with it’s swirling guitar lines and monster drum fills, are as intense as anything the band has ever done.

Elsewhere, Zeppelin-esque highlights both minor (“Zero Chance,” “Dusty”) and major (“Burden In My Hand,” the album’s signature song and arguably the band’s best song ever) are heavily reliant on Eastern tinged atmospherics, while “Blow Up The Outside World” starts with a mellow, trippy Beatles-esque melody before exploding into the splendor of its huge chorus. Actually, the first half of the album is mostly excellent, presenting a more accessible Soundgarden that still rocked plenty hard. On the whole, the album doesn’t quite have the diversity of Superunknown, however, and it has much more filler, as the second half gets bogged down by too many unmemorable tracks. I wouldn’t miss “Never Named,” “No Attention,” or “An Unkind,” the albums punkiest songs along with the first side’s far superior “Ty Cobb,”, and though the playing on “Never The Machine Forever” is impressive, the songwriting is only so-so, while “Applebite” is a simple yet strangely alluring (mostly) instrumental that probably could’ve been cut in half. Better is more melodic fare such as “Switch Opens” and “Boot Camp,” while successful multi-sectioned epics such as “Tighter & Tighter” and “Overfloater” also attest to the band’s undiminished ambition and ability. On the downside, this mellower, less edgy album under utilizes their greatest asset by not unleashing Cornell more, but there’s still enough first rate stuff here that had the band left the lesser songs on the cutting room floor, they could’ve had another classic on their hands. As it is, this turned out to be merely a very good goodbye, as Soundgarden broke up soon after this albums release.

Having emerged from the first wave of grunge to stand tall amid other great Seattle heavyweights such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Alice In Chains, I am lucky to say that I’ve seen Soundgarden live twice  (Lollapalozza 2010 and Vegas 2011), and hope to see them more when the release their long awaited 7th studio album in Oct. 2012.

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