Forget the joke figure that Chris Cornell turned himself into. Back in 1994, Soundgarden with Cornell on lead vocals released their masterpiece. He was one of the great grunge voices of the era. His voice soared over the bludgeoning, guttural riffs of Kim Thayil, especially on this album.
Previous albums had impressed, but Superunknown was a bold statement. 70 minutes and 15 diverse tracks was quite a lot to take in. Were they aiming for a White Album of grunge, maybe? The bottom line with this album is it is full of great, heavy songs, many of which were quite anthemic, and a lot of it is more metal than grunge.
Fell On Black Days, starts with a great, driving low riff and a superb vocal from Cornell. Mailman, is heavier, almost draggier (in a good way), as Cornell sings about “heading for the bottom”. The title track follows which races along at breakneck speed, sounding enormous. Thayil plays not one but 2 guitar riffs and Cornell belts out the lyrics as if his life depended on it.
There is room for moodier introspection (with a degree of heaviness) on tracks like Head Down, The Day I Tried To Live, both of which feature unusual, exciting chord progressions. Along similar lines Black Hole Sun made a huge impression on MTV, being both a moody anthem, and being radio-friendly.
At the opposite end of the spectrum Spoonman is a heavy anthem featuring jackhammer drums, rampaging riffs and a spoon solo (!) in the middle (failed to start a musical trend), while Kickstand is a short, sharp, punky shock to the system.
On Half they try their hand at Eastern stylings while 4th of July drags a little on sludgier than sludgy riffs, but in the main the ten tonne, 20 metres below sea-level guitar riffs and vocal pyrotechnics win the day here. It’s one of the essential albums of the grunge era.