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Superunknown

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★★★★★
(306 Reviews)

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  • creed did not invent anything besides a new way to show how crappy a bunch of drunk losers can be. infact nirvana had an album out before all of those bands so you could say they invented grunge but im not really a nirvana fan this album is ok was not the first grunge album ever but it ok like i said

    Posted on March 16, 2010 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • 1994 was a dark period for rock music. Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain had been found dead that April, presumably from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Because of this incident, many would suppose that the grunge rock dynasty would be brought to a halt. In the next couple of years, such would be the case, but not before fellow Seattle rock titans Soundgarden would release their masterpiece, Superunknown in March of 1994. While the album was released before Cobain’s death, the album didn’t really take off until summer of that year, with the release of the single “Black Hole Sun”. Soundgarden had been together since 1984, and releasing records since 1987, and even achieved minor success with those records in between, but this record was truly the most successful. This seeming swan song for grunge (although the group would release another album in 1996, before becoming defunct the following year) boasted 15 tracks, and over 70 minutes worth of music, without a single weak track. Each track is different from the other, showcasing innovation that hasn’t been seen since Zeppelin’s mid-career albums. Ultimately, the group really hit the nail on the head with this recording, which simultaneously brought them commercial success. The first track, “Let Me Drown”, kicks off the album with muscular riff-heavy rock. Chris Cornell’s vocals become more emphatic as it switches from the verse to the chorus, which aids in “pumping you up” for the rest of this record. His vocals seem, for the first time in his career, totally floating over the band, rather than just melding with the band, thus the hooks in his vocals really comes out strong. The next track, “My Wave”, was a minor hit on radio (whose highest position was somewhere around number 18 on modern rock charts). The main riff, in a strange guitar tuning, gives a bizarre tone to the instrument, which is also mixed with some wah-wah bass moves in the song’s bridge. “Fell on Black Days”, the following track, was a dark, pseudo-ballad that also made its way to radio. Chris’s vocals seem pretty low-register and melancholy for most of the song, until the end, when his signature scream (which never before felt so dramatic) carries the song out until the end. This particular track seems to be one of the favorites among Soundgarden fans. The group has often been described as the perfect combination of the dark, plodding riffs of Black Sabbath and the versatility of Led Zeppelin. Never before has this marriage become so obvious than in track 4, “Mailman”. The song begins as a detuned, plodding dirge (as it remains throughout the song), with such “uplifting” lyrics as “I’m the dirt beneath your feet/The most important fool you forgot to see”. Led Zeppelin’s influence begins to come through with the addition of the spooky Mellotron strings, bringing an eerie resonance that has rarely been heard since the mid-70’s. The title track of “Superunknown” comes next, which more or less shows an epic, Zeppelin-like feel. The track features twangy, psychedelic riffs, along with some interesting percussion parts in the bridge section. Following this song is the sweeping, acoustic-driven epic “Head Down”. Also owing a great deal to Led Zeppelin’s sound, the track is quite enjoyable nonetheless, although one may argue that it is a bit repetitive (but, repetition of a great riff is better than repeating a horrible one!). This is of course followed by the group’s most famous song, “Black Hole Sun”. Easily the anthem for the summer of 1994, Soundgarden enjoyed their biggest hit with this track, and rightfully so. The track is surprisingly innovative for such a popular song, with hints of psychedelia in the verse, as well as the bridge/solo, along with a muscular riff in the choruses. Another surprise is the fact that from what I remember, the song was never edited from its 5 minute length. The song also had one of their most bizarre music videos for this track, which also surprisingly got heavy play on MTV (but I guarantee such would not be the case today). “Black Hole Sun” was followed by yet another hit for Soundgarden, “Spoonman”, bringing us to track 8. “Spoonman” was actually the first single to be released off of Superunknown, about a month before it was released. Originally written for Cameron Crowe’s Seattle-based movie “Singles”(which featured Soundgarden playing live), the song was revamped, with a guy playing spoons during the bridge. The vibe of the song was similar to that of The Who’s “Magic Bus”, as most of Soundgarden’s music hearkens to the 60’s and 70’s. Now at track 9, about half-way through the album, we arrive at “Limo Wreck”, one of my personal favorites. This song features beautifully placed guitar harmonics, a somewhat slow 9/8 time signature feel, and an overall gloomy tone. It also features some great lyrics on Chris’s behalf: “Swallowing rivers belongs to the sea/When the whole thing washes away, don’t run to me.” Most of the song has this similar structure of lyrics. “The Day I Tried to Live” comes next, which was yet another single to be released from this record. Yet another pseudo-ballad, this one here seems to be the centerpiece of the album. It is anthemic, almost in an R&B sense, with Chris’s vocals yet again waiting until the end to really bring the high-register screams out, which seems to end on an uplifting note. Following this one is the only real song that seems to show Soundgarden’s punk influences, “Kickstand”. The shortest song on the record (only about 1 ½ minutes long), it is no less innovative. It seems to meld Led Zeppelin with The Stooges, and ends almost as abruptly as it starts. “Fresh Tendrils” showcases some funky clavinet (Physical Graffiti anyone?), although it does not particularly work with the sound this track was going for. It is still a strong track, and certainly worth a listen. “4th of July” is by far one of Soundgarden’s spookiest, and darkest tracks. It is seriously Soundgarden’s one true doom metal number, with detuned riffs, a plodding drum beat, and lyrics speaking of the apocalypse (brought about brilliantly, as the narrator thought the explosions were because it was the 4th of July). Following this is a strange, folky track called “Half”. This features vocals completely by bassist Ben Shepard, playing a twangy mandolin part. Strings are also recorded in the mix, making the soundscape even more epic (despite its short length). Finally, we arrive at track 15, “Like Suicide”. Starting off very light, the song does not kick into full gear until around the second verse, before really bringing it home at the very end, in full Soundgarden fashion. Its seven minute length rounds out the record, as it is truly an end to an incredible record. Popular rock music has not seen much innovation like this since the release of Superunknown. Most great records released since then have been buried by the more “commercial” ones, which has unfortunately gotten worse in the past few years with the rising popularity of cookie-cutter, overly produced records, which give no real substance or innovation to music. It’s hard to believe that a record that could be compared to “Houses of the Holy” or “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” was released only 10 years ago, and that so much has changed in the music world as well. Superunknown is truly a testament to how much has changed in popular music over the past 10 years. However, as the record took awhile for me to fully appreciate, I am sure the rock world will soon recognize its glory in the next 10 years, as the same was done for Led Zeppelin’s and Black Sabbath’s records. As a musician myself, it would be my dream to carry on the torch that these bands have carried, being able to be ground-breaking, and achieve success simultaneously.

    Posted on December 30, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • There are so many great tracks on this album, I couldn’t even mention them all. One of the truly front to back albums ever made, Superunknown may only be rivaled in strength by Pearl Jam’s Ten. Of course, the radio songs like Black Hole Sun, My Wave, and Spoonman, are great, but Soundgarden’s real greatness is shown in some of its lesser known tracks. Shepard’s distorted lyrics in Half are simply ominous, while Cornell provides the listener with dreadful pleasure in Limo Wreck, Fell on Black Days and The Day I tried to Live. Like Suicide, the final track, is perhaps the most disturbing song of all, and makes one wonder what goes through Chris Cornell’s mind when he’s all alone. But if there’s one song to play over and again, its the self-flagellating Fresh Tendrils, which moves with a taut rage that only Soundgarden could deliver. If you haven’t bought this album, you’re missing out on a rare and powerful musical experience that comes around more seldom than does Halley’s Comet.

    Posted on December 30, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • Whoa. If you’re in a good, optimistic mood and you want to stay that way, don’t listen to this album. You’ll be running for the razors in no time. Fortunately, Soundgarden fans like myself recognize the unmistakable brilliance of Cornell’s pitch-black lyrics, Thayil’s guitaring genius, Shepherd’s throbbing bass and Cameron’s fantastically tight drumming. All are truly on show in this, their best album, a balance between the best elements of the faster, harder Badmotorfinger and the slightly more mellow Down On The Upside. Forget the popular tracks “Black Hole Sun” and “Spoonman”, the true highlights of this album include “Let Me Drown”, “My Wave”, “Superunknown”, “Limo Wreck”, “The Day I Tried To Live”, “Fresh Tendrils” and the darkly brilliant “Head Down”. Awash with cynical lyrics and complex, crashing guitars, there is no better way to experience the music of one of the best and most unique bands of the 90’s.

    Posted on December 30, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • While Nirvana brought “grunge” and alternative rock to the mainstream, it was Soundgarden, along with Mudhoney and Green River (the precursor to Mudhoney) that, along with others, helped create the “grunge” sound. The band spent much of the 80s playing to enthusiastic audiences and building up a fan base. The band’s early work, like “Screaming Life” (1987) and “Ultramega OK” (1988) saw a real Sabbath and Stooges influence, and while this influence remained, the band started to get a more refined and metallic edge as they progressed, with “Louder than Love” (1989) and “Badmoterfinger” (1991). In the spring of 1994, at the twilight of the Seattle grunge era, Soundgarden unleashed what would be their masterpiece “Superunknown.”

    To the general, fickle public that followed whatever was the flavor-of-the-week, Soundgarden’s 1994 smash album “Superunknown” may have seemed to come out of left-field. While Soundgarden’s pervious, top-40 album “Badmoterfinger” (1991) as well as a high profile tour with Guns N’ Roses and props from Kurt Cobain may have put the band firmly on the map, it was “Superunknown” that made Soundgarden one of rock’s premier bands of the 90s.

    “Superunknown” takes up where “Badmoterfinger” left off, but “Superunknown” is less metallic, and there is a greater focus on melody with a noticeable Beatles influence present. In addition, the scope of the band’s sound is expanded with the appearance of guest musicians (cello, viola, piano). While some fans of the band’s earlier work may have perceived Soundgarden becoming more “commercial” or loosing their edge, this isn’t really a fair argument. “Superunknown” was really the next logical step for Soundgarden to take as it saw the band mature and branch out artistically, without loosing its edge.

    Guitarist Kim Thayil is one of rock’s more underrated guitar players. Creating riffs that are heavy but melodic; he is equal parts George Harrison and Tony Iommi. Singer Chris Cornell, widely recognized as one of rock’s great vocalists, could belt out the songs with pure, unadulterated emotion, without overdoing it, and leave a lasting impression. Ben Shepard (bass) and Matt Cameron (drums) provided an exciting and dynamic rhythm section that was several cuts above average (they also contributed to the songwriting as well).

    The opening “Let Me Drown” sounds a bit like an updated version of Sabbath’s “The Mob Rules,” and gets the album off to a breakneck start. The subtle piano adds an interesting and unexpected touch. One of the album’s big hits and a modern-rock radio staple, the infectious “My Wave” is heavily groove oriented and melodic. The gloomy “Fell on Black Days” is harrowing without indulging in self-pity. The album only gets bleaker with the sluggish “Mailman,” as Cornell sings in almost a whimper “I know I’m headed for the bottom.” The meaning of the hard-hitting title-track “Superunknown” is rather obscure, which adds a bit of mystery to the album without coming off as pretentious. The album takes a bit of a left-turn with the George Harrison-esque; Eastern flavored “Head Down,” which is an interesting and captivating change of pace. The album’s biggest hit and centerpiece “Black Hole Sun” stands as one of the most memorable songs (and videos) of the 1990s. Gloomy, but not hopeless and equal parts Sabbath and the Beatles, “Black Hole Sun” epitomizes the feeling of the disenchanted youth of the 1990s. “Spoonman,” the song that introduced the band to the masses is based on a street performer, who performs with spoons (and plays them on this song). “Limo Wreck” sounds a bit like “Mailman,” with its heavy plodding Sabbath riff. But the song truly shines when Cornell belts out the song’s title, for a fully satisfying climax. “The Day I Tried to Live” depicts the sadness one feels when attempts to venture out of ones shell to find happiness are not fulfilled. “Kickstand” is a very short, but sweet, ballsy rocker. “Fresh Tendrils” is an above-average, by-the-numbers rocker, but too good to be labeled “filler.” Probably the album’s bleakest, most menacing song, “4th of July” grinds and slugs along, but is captivating and thus never tedious. The album throws the listener a curve-ball with violas and cellos and World-Beat trimmings with “Half.” While the title of the closing track “Like Suicide” may lead one to believe it’s just another mid-90s clichéd “woe-is-me” song, “Like Suicide” actually offers sympathy and understanding to someone battling depression. Over seven minutes in length and slow-paced, it would be easy for this song to get tiresome, but it doesn’t.

    Over 70 minutes in length, “Superunknown” is a long listen. Most albums of this length have a lot of filler, but “Superunknown” never suffers from this problem. “Superunknown” keeps the listener intrigued and interested all the way though. While many of the album’s themes are dark and depressing, this album somehow isn’t draining. Beneath the despair, there is hope.

    I remember buying this album in the early summer of 1994, just as my tenure at Jr. High School ended. It was such a great time for music; Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, Nirvana (Cobain had only recently died), Rage Against the Machine, Hole…it was an exciting time and years before the likes of Fred Durst, Linkin Park and Creed…

    While Pearl Jam and Nirvana are given a lion’s share of the glory, Soundgarden should also be remembered as one of the best bands from the 90s. While it has been, as of this writing, almost twelve years since this album’s release (God, I’m old) it is still too early to determine Soundgarden’s legacy. Hopefully, ten years from now, kids will discover “Superunknown,” the way the kids of my generation discovered Sabbath in the 1990s.

    Posted on December 30, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now