Tag Archives: Chris Cornell

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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SAP

This four song EP came as quite a surprise when it was first released (a fifth unlisted “song” is merely the guys messing around). Simply put, Sap proved that Alice in Chains were more than merely an exceptional heavy metal band. With vocal support from Ann Wilson of Heart, Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, and Mark Arm of Mudhoney, this EP turns down the amps from Facelift while still maintaining the band’s trademark intensity.

Jerry Cantrell’s songwriting sparkles, while Staley’s singing with his assorted partners remains riveting. Cantrell also takes his first lead vocal on “Brother,” though Wilson’s haunting backing wails steal the show. “Got Me Wrong” is another catchy winner that was featured in the hilarious cult movie Clerks, and the lighter “Right Turn” takes off when Cornell turns up and various voices (including Mark Arm’s) start to spectacularly fly all over the place (as usual, Cornell steals the show). The evocative “Am I Inside” is also memorable, as Alice in Chains bring acoustic instruments to the fore rather than bludgeon listeners with brute force. Yet the band’s chemistry and sound remain intact, as this was one band that refused to be restricted to straightforward heavy metal clichés. Their growth would be spectacularly realized with their masterful next two efforts.


Badmotorfinger

Soundgarden became a great band on Badmotorfinger. Light years ahead of Louder Than Love and everything else the band had done to date, Badmotorfinger announced the emergence of an awesome hard rock force by showing that Soundgarden was much more than just a one-trick grunge machine. This far more varied and experimental album was part of the Great Grunge Explosion of 1991, and it slowly started breaking Soundgarden to the masses. Though the Sabbath homages continue here, the band takes Sabbath’s plodding, evil rhythms, steps up the pace, and adds multi-colored layers of melody. The end result is still an extremely dirty and bass-heavy sound, but psychedelic elements also lend credence to the band’s snobbish “we’re not heavy metal” stance.

Immediately picking up the pace from its leaden-paced predecessor, “Rusty Cage” is an instant highlight that showcases this albums improvements, namely clearer, more precise playing and catchier melodies. “Outshined” is a slower paced chugger, but its iron clad riffs and bright, singable chorus makes it another standout. As with most of the songs here, Cornell steals the show with a dazzling display of earsplitting screeches and plaintive wails not heard since the heyday of Robert Plant and Ian Gillan. The rest of the band is also imposing, as daring D-tuned guitarist Kim Thayil, powerful drum pounder Matt Cameron, and new bassist Ben Shepard (who obviously has his amp cranked to 11) show that they can be an overwhelming unit (Cornell also plays guitar and is the band’s primary songwriter). You can certainly faint on “Slaves & Bulldozers” with its lurching rhythms, guitar heroics, and Cornell’s somewhat over-the-top vocals (which only he could pull off), but the impressively plodding song is definitely for me, while “Jesus Christ Pose” should appeal to any hard rock fan. Distinguished by Cameron’s fierce tribal drums and Thayil/Cornell’s razor sharp riffing, this incredibly intense song shows a sleeker Soundgarden firing on all cylinders, with Cornell’s commanding vocals again providing the proverbial icing on the cake.  “Face Pollution” is a fast-paced thrasher on which the songwriting isn’t as solid, and the almost poppy “Somewhere” finishes much weaker than it starts, a problem that plagues several songs here – comes another epic highlight in the highly psychedelic “Searching With My Good Eye Closed,” which is all about building up the tension before the release of several soaring climaxes.

The high quality continues with “Room A Thousand Years Wide,” whose outstanding attribute is its crunching riffs, while “Mind Riot” is one of those great album tracks that makes their later A-Sides compilation superfluous. The song instantly stands out due to its brighter melody, and when the sharp guitars stab through the melody as Cameron again pounds away its pretty clear that something special is about to happen; when Cornell comes in I can only shake my head in awe at the peerlessness of his performance. Needless to say that song would be tough to top, and “Drawing Flies” is merely a decent “catch your breath” type of filler track. “Holy Water,” which again sees Soundgarden flirting with the catchier choruses that would fully flower on their next release, is much better, though it’s not exactly a highlight, either, unlike “New Damage,” which closes out a classic (if overly long) album with yet another absurdly powerful performance by all band members.

Of course, the album is far from perfect, as not every song here is top shelf and (as previously mentioned) the band fails to maintain their momentum for the duration of several songs. However, the album’s highs rise to some incredible peaks, as Soundgarden delivers pure adrenalized power.


Louder Than Love

After building up a big buzz on the independent Sub Pop and SST labels, Louder Than Love, the band’s major label debut, again saw this Seattle quartet worshipping at the dual altars of hard rock deities Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, as the dirge-like guitar lines attest. The production is better this time, though, and standout tracks such as “Ugly Truth,” “Hands All Over,” and “Loud Love” all showed the promise that Soundgarden would later fulfill in becoming one of the best hard rock bands of the ‘90s.

The band immediately delivers the goods with “Ugly Truth,” a chugging metal missile led by Kim Thayil’s bold riffing and Chris Cornell’s instantly awe-inspiring vocal wail. The swirling wall of sound on “Hands All Over” hypnotizes the listener, showing off the band’s sense of dynamics by presenting a nice mix of light (bright melodic riffs) and dark (Cornell’s wail from beyond and “kill your mother” lyrics) elements, while “Loud Love” offers the best evidence of the band’s primordial power. Though none of the other rather one-dimensional and at-times lumbering songs rise quite so high, this is a consistently solid set that’s much slower and sludgier than its subsequent big brothers. Of course, it’s also less polished and together sounding, as some of the music here fails to mesh well with Cornell’s histrionic vocals.

Also, though Cornell demonstrates pipes to kill for he hadn’t yet learned the value of restraint, and the band’s sound had yet to coalesce into the sleek powerhouse they would soon become. Other notable tracks include “Get On The Snake,” an impressive (and comparatively lively) grinder, and “Big Dumb Sex,” which is as deliberately dumb (and fun) as its title would suggest. The funny, punkish “Full On Kevin’s Mom” also shows Soundgarden starting to get the hang of this irony thing, but the band are definitely at their best when showing their more serious side. Still, for all its considerable strengths (clearly this was the band’s best effort yet), Louder Than Love is more an appealing appetizer for future breakthroughs than an essential Soundgarden release.


Screaming Life / Fopp EPs

Combining the band’s first two EPs, Screaming Life and Fopp , these songs generally see Soundgarden finding their legs. In particular, the Fopp EP is forgettable, featuring a decent original song (“Kingdom of Come”), a good cover song (Green River’s “Swallow My Pride”), and two awful covers of the same song (“Fopp” and “Fopp (dub)”) that was originally done by the Ohio Players. Thankfully, the Screaming Life EP (totaling six songs) is much better, starting with the somewhat thin but deliciously dirty sound rendered by producer Steve Fisk (with engineering help from Sub Pop house producer Jack Endino). The songs aren’t always there, though, and the performances are hit and miss as well. For example, Chris Cornell, who would become the band’s biggest asset, all but ruins “Tears To Forget” and “Little Joe” with his horrible vocals. A shame, really, as the former has a decent punk groove and the latter melodic guitars, though they’d be better off leaving funk metal attempts to the likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Faith No More. Fortunately, “Entering” and “Hand Of God” suit the band’s style much better, and though neither are especially memorable from a songwriting standpoint, both feature extremely powerful playing. Better yet is “Hunted Down,” an intense grinder with an air of menace, and “Nothing To Say,” the band’s first truly classic track on which Cornell unleashes his paint peeling screeches as the guitars swirl around him. The band would get much better, but these songs prove that Soundgarden was plenty good to begin with.


Soundgarden

August 8th, 2010 – Lollapalooza at Chicago, IL

Rumors of the demise on Chris’ vocals were greatly exaggerated. Chris does sound different. His voice when singing came across a little more horse and raspy. He can not hit all the high notes and hold them as long. But he still sounds good. And the band sounded great. Hard to believe this was only their third show this year. ‘Jesus Christ Pose’ is my favorite Soundgarden song so glad that was in the setlist. One thing I like to see is a band that can “finish with a bang.” Slaves & Bulldozers was one the best single song live performances I have ever seen. Went on for about 10 minutes. At the end, Cornell and Shepard were waving their guitar in front of and across the amplifiers much like Nirvana and Sonic Youth would do. At the same time, Kim was briefly playing his guitar with his tongue! Mind blowing.


During Outshined, Chris Cornell got off the stage and ran towards the crowd. Only after running down the fenced off area toward the soundbooth and lighting, Chris went out in to the crowd and kept singing. He came within 10 yards of me but I did not get close enough to him. 😦


The opener for the Thursday show (Aug 5th, 2010) in Chicago was Minus the Bear. Old school Seattle and new school Seattle. How cool is that? Best show of the year 2010 for me, without a shadow of the doubt.

Setlist:

Searching with my Good Eye closed
Spoonman
Gun
Rusty Cage
Blow up the Outside World
Let Me Drown
Flower
Outshined
Jesus Christ Pose
Fell on Black Days
Ugly Truth
Get on the Snake
Burden in my Hand
Superunknown
Black Hole Sun
Mailman
4th of July
Face Pollution
Like Suicide
Slaves & Bulldozers