The former drummer of Nirvana (#3 on my personal list of Most Overrated Rock Bands of Alltime), recently spoke with Rolling Stone magazine about Soundgarden’s album, Superunknown, released twenty years ago. Superunknown, in my completely objective opinion (ha!), is the greatest album to come out of the Nineties grunge scene in Seattle. And, frankly, it sounds as if Grohl, now frontman for Foo Fighters—a group I far, far prefer to Nirvana—seems to agree:
Superunknown is, in my book, right up there with ’90s classics such as Radiohead’s OK Computer, Jeff Buckley’s Grace and U2’s Achtung Baby. I always found Nirvana to be rather boring, just as I found Pearl Jam to be rather boring and rather pretentious (I don’t usually care for bands who try to constantly make Big Statements); it doesn’t help that I cannot stand Eddie Vetter’s weird, warbling voice. But, hey, let’s focus on the good stuff. Soundgarden is coming out with various deluxe packages of the remastered Superunknown (my copy should arrive this week), and Chris Cornell—who was good friends with Buckley—spoke recently to Radio.com about the album’s anniversary:
Cornell, I should remind readers, once said, “I was a nerdy shut-in who listened to prog-rock.” And while Soundgarden is constantly compared to Led Zeppelin, the group was more influenced by Black Sabbath, the Beatles (Cornell’s favorite group), Kraut rock, the Stooges, the Clash and other punk-ish groups.
Speaking of the hit song, “Black Hole Sun,” Grohl remarks, “It was so much more melodically sophisticated than anything any of the other bands in Seattle were doing. It was a big deal.” The same could be said for the entire album, which is, musically and lyrically, one of most eclectic and sophisticated hard rock albums ever produced. Billboard.com has a really good piece about the album that gives a track-by-track tour of the entire 70 minutes. Apparently the making of Superunknown pushed the limits of the technology involved:
Michael Beinhorn, who produced the album with the band at Seattle’s Bad Animals studio in the summer of 1993, told Billboard in 1994 of how he’d overload “tape to the point of distortion, using massive EQ, massive compression. We experimented with chains of four equalizers and four compressors in one signal chain, on one instrument. The end result is a record that is both incredibly dense and overwhelmingly present. There is a tangible sense of air being moved.”
Another interesting note, new to me: the final song, “Like Suicide,” was inspired by a dead bird. Death and mortality, of course, figure heavily in the album; there is a sense of apocalyptic foreboding that is equally chilling and compelling, in large part because the songs are so, well, singable (beware, however, trying to match Cornell’s high notes). My favorite track, “Limo Wreck,” features all sorts of weird tunings and time signatures at the service of a haunting, dirge-ish cut that swells in intensity as Cornell wails: “Under the shelf/The shelf of the sky/Two eyes, two suns/Too heavenly blinds/Swallowing rivers/Belongs to the sea/When the whole thing washes away/Don’t run to me.”
Once I’ve had a chance to listen to the remastered album, I’ll share some more thoughts.