The band further tone down the grunge by cleaning up the production and tightening the songwriting, and as a result Soundgarden reached new heights of commercial acceptance (though they never achieved the level of popularity of Nirvana, Alice in Chains or even Pearl Jam). Deservedly so, it should be added, because the band’s music is more impressive than ever, as full artistic maturity is finally reached. While Cornell stakes his claim as the best hard rock singer of his generation (he’d get my vote), bassist Ben Shepard and drummer Matt Cameron prove to be one of rock’s most potent rhythm sections, providing the perfect backdrop for Kim Thayil’s low-tuned guitar exploits.
This album shows a new level of maturity and diversity that’s evident in tight, turbo charged rockers such as “Kickstand” and “Let Me Drown,” which contrast with methodical, sinister compositions such as “Mailman,” “4th of July,” and “Like Suicide.” Soundgarden broke into the Top 40 with the bludgeoning “Spoonman” (a great song despite its cheesy megaphone spoken word vocals) and the massive hit single “Black Hole Sun,” a darkly psychedelic power ballad that finally made the band stars. Ironically, this overly repetitive song is actually among the album’s least impressive songs, though its tightly coiled intensity, cool multi-tracked vocals, and wailing guitars in the background are easy enough to admire. Still, I much prefer album tracks such as “Let Me Drown,” with its churning riffs and blistering chorus, “Head Down,” which hauntingly rises from a whisper to a scream without ever losing its intensity, “Limo Wreck,” which contains vocal acrobatics galore, and “Like Suicide,” a slow building epic with inventive tribal beats and a great jam ending.
Other well-known highlights that saw some radio time include “Fell On Black Days,” which features a deliciously dark riff and a beautifully controlled vocal, “My Wave,” whose heavy psychedelic pop was catchy yet crunchy, the sleekly powerful and catchy title track, and the awesomely anthemic “The Day I Tried To Live.” These songs all demonstrated the bands newfound restraint and Cornell’s more varied vocal delivery, though it’s his ear piercing epiphanies that remain most riveting. Alas, as with most ’90s albums this 70-minute effort is a little too long for it’s own good, but this is most definitely a minor quibble about an album that became an instant hard rock classic, as you can almost feel the band’s increased confidence throughout. And though I’d argue that its predecessors peaks arguably rose even higher, Superunknown was easily Soundgarden’s most consistently excellent album to date, and as such it’s remembered as the band’s creative and commercial peak.