US band SOUNGARDEN established themselves as a household name in music in the 1990’s, and while their previous three albums all had been successful, “Superunknown” from 1994 is the album that transported the band from the outer edges of mainstream success into becoming a Billboard mainstay for the next couple of years. It is also, possibly, the album that heralded the first embers of the demise of the band, who split up one album and three years later.
It is kind of interesting to note how this album is now considered classic rock, as it is was released after I had become an adult myself. Still, 24 years have gone by since it was unleashed on the world, so it is natural that it would appear as a pick on the Facebook group Classic Rock Album Of The Week Club I guess. Still, it gave me an opportunity to revisit this album.
Personally, Badmotorfinger will always be the Soungarden album of choice for me, an album I played to death and back when it was released, but Superunknown is not a bad album at all either. Less intense, a bit further removed from the sheer intensity of it’s predecessor, but a quality production still, and one that has stood the test of time very well indeed.
The mood and atmosphere is a dark one throughout, which is kind of surprising, but perhaps also in tune with the spirit of the age. Following the break up of Eastern Europe a few years back the world was still in transition, resulting in the Yugoslaw Wars still being an ongoing issue. Yeltsin was the leader in Russia, a man whose character created an air of insecurity, and I recall the jokes about how he could potentially kick off a nuclear war by way of a drunken stumble. The Rwanda massacre took place in 1994 as well. The 1990’s, in many ways, was a decade that especially early on had some chaotic elements to it, creating insecurity and fear, and dark brooding music is a fitting soundtrack for such times. Soundgarden provided that, and with a high quality too.
The big cut on this album is obviously Black Hole Sun, combining aspects of the doom-laden hard rock song, the ballad and vintage era psychedelia into a hummingly compelling apocalyptic vision. A song that sounds out of time, and in my view will remain an evergreen until well after my time on the planet is over. A monster of a song, and a much deserved hit song for Soundgarden. On a perhaps less mainstream-oriented mode we also have the title cut Superunknown, a song that for me pretty much is a stew consisting of most of the pieces found elsewhere on this album, explored and executed with high quality and intensity.
As for the rest, there are some stunning cuts elsewhere too, and those not goose-bumps inducing are still good songs. We get the modern day take on the classic Sabbath sound, lightly coated with dissonant psychedelic details, calmer creations with more of an indie rock flair to them, slower paced and pacier affairs more in line with the typical grunge bands, and even a token purebred punk song tossed in for good measure. Vintage psychedelia are given a few nods here and there too, and even the good, old blues are given a couple of solid nods by way of instrument details. All explored in landscapes of dark psychedelia and whiffs of depression, in some kind of a twilight zone nightmare.
What makes this album a vital one rather than merely a good one are the vocals of the late Chris Cornell of course. A spectacular singer with a good range, but also capable of adding tons of emotions to his delivery. When he is firing on all cylinders, as is often the case here, he does manage to elevate the total experience quite a bit, carrying songs by way of his stellar vocals.
Superunknown comes across as a vital album even now, almost 25 years later. It is a dark album, to the point of creating an oppressive atmosphere, but few have managed to create dystopian atmospheres in music as compelling and as alluring as Soundgarden did here. If you like your hard rock, enjoy landscapes of a dark and depressive orientation, and don’t mind tripping a bit out while visiting dystopia central, then Superunknown is an album well worth revisiting. Grunge at it’s arguably most sophisticated peak, and for me at least an album reflecting the spirit of the time it was made very well indeed too.
My rating: 84/100
Let Me Drown // My Wave // Fell on Black Days // Mailman // Superunknown // Head Down // Black Hole Sun // Spoonman // Limo Wreck // The Day I Tried to Live // Kickstand // Fresh Tendrils // 4th of July // Half // Like Suicide