One thing about Grunge, no one can deny is the band names were excellent - Pearl Jam, Nirvana and probably the best, Soundgarden. The story begins with guitarist Kim Thayil's move from Chicago to Seattle. Like most bands there were several members in and out before the right combination was dialed in. The final line-up was lead singer Chris Cornell, bassist Ben Shepherd, drummer Matt Cameron and Thayil.
Soundgarden recorded for Sub-Pop and SST before they signed sign with a major label. But just to make it difficult, they went with an imprint that had a spotty track record with Rock.
A&M started with Herb Alpert & Tijuana Brass (Alpert was the "A" of A&M), launched the Carpenters and had massive success with Peter Frampton. Jeez! Surprisingly, Soundgarden moved to the forefront with the "Louder Than Love" and "Badmotorfinger" CDs but "Superunknown," released in '94, really nailed it with the songs "Black Hole Sun" and "Fell On Black Days."
In '97, following their "Down On The Upside" album (which included "Blow Up The Outside World") the band decided to go their separate ways, no doubt, succumbing to the pressures of success.
After a false start, Cornell hooked up with Rage Against The Machine vets for Audioslave. The band had a successful, if brief, run. Cornell also pursued a solo career.
In mid-'09, he reported that bandmembers were talking about revisiting their back catalog. "[We're] trying to put together an album of B-sides and maybe a box set with some unreleased tracks," said Cornell. "We all feel it's time to do that . . . we have a lot of new fans discovering our music." Cornell added that a Soundgarden reunion was "not impossible."
Not impossible at all. '10 started on a promising note when, on New Year's Day, Connell tweeted "The 12-year break is over and school is back in session. Sign up now. Knights of the Soundtable ride again!"
The group played an April "secret show" at Seattle's Showbox Theater - their first stage appearance in thirteen years. The band appeared under the name Nudedragons - an anagram of Soundgarden. They opened with "Spoonman" and closed with a cover of The Doors' "Waiting For The Sun."
Soundgarden released "Telephantasm: A Retrospective," which was initially packaged with Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock (aka Guitar Hero 6) video game. It was the first retail music CD packaged with a video game. A previously unreleased song — "Black Rain" — debuted on the Guitar Hero video game and appeared on the compilation album. It was Soundgarden's first new song since '97's "Bleed Together" which was on the compilation "A Sides."
Not surprisingly, "Telephantasm: A Retrospective" went platinum.
Next, Soundgarden's first live album, "Live on I-5" arrived in '11.
Having leveraged their past, Soundgarden returned to the studio with producer Adam Kasper. Some tracks were "similar in a sense to 'Down On The Upside'," said Thayil. "There are some heavy moments, and there are some fast songs."
According to Thayil, "King Animal" took longer to finish than he'd anticipated. "We didn't have predetermined deadlines set by the record company - that was great," said Thayil. "I originally thought we'd have the bulk of this done by the summer of 2011, but once we started rolling and felt that inertia of the music coming together, one of us would have to head out for a tour, or Adam (Kasper) would end up having someone else lined up for the studio."
"King Animal" was eventually completed and released in November, '12.
1988 Ultramega OK
1989 Louder Than Love
1996 Down On The Upside
1997 A-Sides (compilation)
2012 King Animal
Kurt Cobain famously said Nirvana sounded "like Boston being molested by Black Flag." Pearl Jam veered toward The Who and Neil Young. Soundgarden had an affinity for Black Sabbath and AC/DC. "King Animal" keeps the latter's touchstones intact.
"Attrition," is a classic Metal romp and "By Crooked Steps" relies on '70's power chords. For those wallowing in '90s angst, there's the Grunge of "Blood On The Valley Floor."
The group's quirky side is evident in the dreamy "A Thousand Days," the bass/drum "Worse Dreams" and "Eyelid's Mouth"("In the eyelid's mouth on the iris tongue, when a scream crawls out only the tear has won"), which comes razor close to Sabbath.
The "A-Sides" has seventeen tracks and clearly illustrates why Soundgarden was a major '90s group. "Superunknown" is their crowning studio achievement. The hypnotic "Black Hole Sun" starts slow and dreamy but transforms itself into a Grunge explosion. "Fell On Black Days" and "Blow Up The Outside World" are pile-driving Rockers. "Spoonman" has a catchy riff with a lighthearted touch. The song's inspiration comes from a Seattle street musician.
Just a notch below is "Badmotorfinger" ("Rusty Cage," "Outshined"), "Louder Than Love" ("Ugly Truth," "Loud Love") and "Down On The Upside" ("Ty Cobb," "Blow Up The Outside World"). Their sound pits a solid guitar blast against Cornell's hard-edged vocals. The group also had the benefit of three extraordinary songwriters in Cornell, Thayil and Shepherd.
The group's SST label release "Ultramega OK" is a good set but pales when compared to later work. Both "Screaming Life" and "Fopp," recorded in the '80s, started as EPs but have since been combined into "Screaming Life." In this case two halves don 't make a whole.