I was heavily into the music of the early 90s. I was young and just barely getting into the world of music so “grunge” and the bands from Seattle were straight up magic to me. At first like many kids I was obsessed with Nirvana, then I moved to Pearl Jam, then Alice in Chains, then finally Soundgarden. In hindsight it is s shame that I arrived to Soundgarden last, but in a way it is fitting because of the four bands Soundgarden is easily the most rewarding group with Chris Cornell being the most talented front man of the four bands hands down.
I’m not trying to make this a contest or anything because all four bands are really great, but as I’ve gotten older Soundgarden’s music and in particular their most popular album Superunknown has really stood the test of time and stayed musically relevant. As the years have passed I find myself returning to Superunknown over and over, but not for nostalgia’s sake but because it is such a rewarding listen from start to finish and I seem to find a new element to one the of the songs or the album over all with each listen. Which is crazy because at this point I have at least listened to Superunknown probably over a thousand times if not more.
The highlight of Superunknown that shines above the fantastic and ground breaking musicianship of the album is Chris Cornell’s voice and even more than that his vocal delivery and lyrics.
To me there is no other album out there that can top what Cornell was able to accomplish on this album. Throughout the fifteen tracks there is not one dud or sub-par song. Every song is perfection and a lot of that has to do with Cornell, when the music lulls he is there vocally to pick it up. When the music seems off the tracks and ready to turn into a trainwreck Cornell comes in with the perfect lyric and delivery to steer things right and reset the mood.
Without talking about some of the more popular tracks on the album, I thought it might be worth sharing a few thoughts on some of the deeper cuts contained on Superunknown:
- Is there a better opening track that captures the energy and the adventure your about to take than “Let Me Drown”. I hear that the band often used this song to start of live shows.
- While “My Wave” may have been a single and had a video made for it, I feel like it might be the most under-appreciated song on the album. Such a dope groove and drum pattern.
- “Mailman” might be my favorite. This song is so insanely heavy, almost stoner-metal in vibe. The lyrics are so good and really display the knack that Cornell has for a creating a destructive fuck-all take down vibe.
- “Limo Wreck” might have the best bass performance on the album.
- If there is any other song heavier and darker than “Mailman” it might be “4th of July”. This lyric gets me every time, its so brutal and apocalyptic.
“Pale in the flare light / The scared light cracks & disappears / And leads the scorched ones here / And everywhere no one cares / The fire is spreading/ And no one wants to speak about it / Down in the hole / Jesus tries to crack a smile / Beneath another shovel load”
- The closing track “Like Suicide” might be a little too real now at this point, but such a raw and primal output from both Cornell and the band to close out the album. It is perfection as far as closing tracks go. There may not be a better closer on any album ever.
Of the fifteen tracks on Superunknown the one that stands out the most to me is track ten “The Day I Tried to Live”.
Throughout out an album of brilliant lyrics and vocal performances this is the crowning jewel of the collection. On this song Cornell brings the perfect concoction of self-destructive hopeful-cynicism a theme that runs throughout the entire album, but really fully comes together on this song. I would quote some specific lyrics here, but really the entire song should be quoted from start to finish. “The Day I Tried to Live” and the entirety of Superunknown really is one of the best albums of all time.
I have been obsessed with Soundgarden since Superunknown came out and when their follow up album Down on the Upside was released a couple years later I listened to that one on repeat as well.
That album while not as special as Superunknown is also amazing and has some genius moments both musically and lyrically / vocally. I was slightly devastated in 1997 when they broke up because my obsession and admiration was at its peak and I still hadn’t seen them live.
When they reunited in 2010 and started playing shows I was hopeful that I was finally going to see them in concert and when I heard they were putting out a new album in King Animal I became nervous for fear that it wouldn’t be very good and tarnish the legacy of Superunknown, but to my relief the album (minus a few tracks) it was actually really good and so my enthusiasm and hope that I would see them live continued.
2017 rolled around and I still hadn’t seen Soundgarden live, but with a tour coming up there was still a chance.
The first leg of the tour was scheduled and still no Salt Lake City date. I was hoping for maybe a date on the second leg of the tour. Then on Thursday May 18th news spread that Chris Cornell died and I was devastated. Not only for my own selfish reasons of catching Soundgarden in concert, but devastated for his wife and three fairly young children, for his band mates, and for the rest of his family and friends.
If you followed Cornell’s personal Twitter account and or Soundgarden’s band account leading up unto his passing there was really no indication at all that Cornell was in a bad place. When I first heard of his death I was convinced it was an accident, but as the details rolled out it became clear what had happened. Mental illness, addiction, and depression are sneaky and can affect someone all of sudden, as I have experienced with several family members and given the circumstances all the person needs is a moment to end their life, which seems like the case with Cornell. Even though he was not a spring chicken anymore dying at 52 still seems too early especially for a musician as talented as he was.
Now that he is gone and a few days have passed to process his death my regrets of not seeing Soundgarden live have disappeared and in its place has grown an even bigger love and a appreciation for the music that Cornell and Soundgarden left behind for us all to cherish, dissect, and celebrate for eternity. I am so sad that Cornell left us especially considering the circumstances, but I am eternally grateful for the gift that is Superunknown and the rest of Soundgarden’s and Chris Cornell’s music.