For some reason it’s those bands who almost achieved massive success but just fell short that I find the most compelling. Jethro Tull were huge, but they never made into the rock superleague like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. XTC never enjoyed anywhere near the commercial success that their talent deserved. For all their musical inventiveness, great tunes, good vibes and multi hued brilliance, the Super Furry Animals never really have enjoyed that breakthrough mega-hit that they have always deserved. In the same sense Soundgarden were overshadowed by the three commercial giants of grunge, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and The Smashing Pumpkins.
I like Soundgarden, they are the only band to really stay with me when I went through a brief grunge phase in the middle of the last decade. While there were albums by other bands that I was initially impressed with, their appeal quickly faded and I inevitably lost interest. Nearly fifteen years later and I’ve yet to lose interest in Soundgarden, and I find their 1994 opus, Superunknown, particularly compelling, with its mix of strong songwriting, sheet-metal riffs, Chris Cornell’s rich vocals and reassuring sense of heft repeatedly drawing me in. Soundgarden have always struck me as more in tune with heavy metal than the majority of their grunge peers, a band that understood the power of a slow, lumbering, rock-beast of a tune. Where I found the majority of grunge’s moaning and whining ultimately tiresome, there was something considerably more resilient and hardy about Superunknown. A quarter of a century after its release, Superunknown just hasn’t aged in the same way that the vast majority of grunge albums have.
Superunknown is a huge sounding album, not just because it lasts well over 70 minutes (in truth many of the songs here would have benefited from some careful trimming), it’s the scale of the musical canvas that Soundgarden are painting for us. Yes it has roots in hard rock, but it’s hard rock with all manner of influences which lends the band’s guitar, bass and drum attack a scope and scale that few bands at the time were even attempting. Songs like “Fell On Black Days”, the album’s title track, “Spoonman” and “Kickstand” make up the backbone of the album, but that doesn’t mean that the rest of the album is filler. With the duration of the album, there are inevitably a couple of songs that are weaker than the rest, however they’re still of a superior quality in regards to heavier rock music of the 90s. A special mention should also go to the huge single, “Black Hole Sun”, a well deserved hit, Soundgarden’s signature tune and one of the key rock songs of the 1990s.
It takes a lot for an album to capture my attention, doubly so if it comes from a musical movement that I am usually indifferent towards, but Superunknown is a remarkable album and time is proving it to be one of the few truly great and enduring albums to come out of the grunge scene.