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Superunknown (20th Anniversary)

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Album Review

Soundgarden's finest hour, Superunknown is a sprawling, 70-minute magnum opus that pushes beyond any previous boundaries. Soundgarden had always loved replicating Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath riffs, but Superunknown's debt is more to mid-period Zep's layered arrangements and sweeping epics. Their earlier punk influences are rarely detectable, replaced by surprisingly effective appropriations of pop and psychedelia. Badmotorfinger boasted more than its fair share of indelible riffs, but here the main hooks reside mostly in Chris Cornell's vocals; accordingly, he's mixed right up front, floating over the band instead of cutting through it. The rest of the production is just as crisp, with the band achieving a huge, robust sound that makes even the heaviest songs sound deceptively bright. But the most important reason Superunknown is such a rich listen is twofold: the band's embrace of psychedelia, and their rapidly progressing mastery of songcraft. Soundgarden had always been a little mind-bending, but the full-on experiments with psychedelia give them a much wider sonic palette, paving the way for less metallic sounds and instruments, more detailed arrangements, and a bridge into pop (which made the eerie ballad "Black Hole Sun" an inescapable hit). That blossoming melodic skill is apparent on most of the record, not just the poppier songs and Cornell-penned hits; though a couple of drummer Matt Cameron's contributions are pretty undistinguished, they're easy to overlook, given the overall consistency. The focused songwriting allows the band to stretch material out for grander effect, without sinking into the pointlessly drawn-out muck that cluttered their early records. The dissonance and odd time signatures are still in force, though not as jarring or immediately obvious, which means that the album reveals more subtleties with each listen. It's obvious that Superunknown was consciously styled as a masterwork, and it fulfills every ambition.

[The 20th anniversary Super Deluxe edition of Superunknown is one lavish box set, containing four CDs and a Blu-ray all housed in a hardcover book. The first CD is naturally a remastered version of the original album, supplemented by the bonus track "She Likes Surprises," which showed up throughout the world on different pressings, while the second disc opens up with two previously unreleased alternate mixes ("The Day I Tried to Live," "Spoonman," both fine) and then rounds up the 14 previously released B-sides; several of these are live versions of songs from the album, but there's also the video version of "Fell on Black Days," along with an early version of that song called "Black Days III" and the non-LP songs "Exit Stonehenge" (a heavy, breakneck 80 seconds), "Kyle Petty, Son of Richard" (winding, elliptical rocker that nearly gets funky at times), and "Jerry Garcia's Finger" (backwards tape psychedelia nonsense). Disc three contains nine demo versions, some so fully formed they recall the finished product ("Fell on Black Days," "Black Hole Sun," but most sounding complete in composition and waiting for fuller, bolder guitars and finalized vocals). More fun is the fourth disc of rehearsals from June of 1993, where Soundgarden burn through 14 songs — including B-sides and early versions — from Superunknown. These are rough: Cornell is singing live with the band, the tempos alternately rush and drag, but the looseness is invigorating and stands as a nice contrast to the tightly controlled finished product. Disc five is a Blu-ray containing high-res versions of the album in stereo, along with 5.1 Surround mixes of the entire finished album, including "She Likes Surprises."]

Customer Reviews

A masterpiece

I casually bought this album after seeing Chris Cornell play an impressive solo gig on the back of his 2006 Bond theme for Casino Royale.
I was completely blown away by this eclectic collection of songs that prove there was more to grunge than just Nirvana. Although produced in 1994 it has not aged at all and is indispensable to any serious music fan's collection.

Best album ever

As the title reads, I believe this is the best album ever. Well it's certainly my favourite! Absolute masterpiece that everyone should own, Soundgarden in their creative prime.

WHAAAAAAAT!

Only heard the previews but each one blew me away!!!

Biography

Formed: 1984 in Seattle, WA

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '10s

Soundgarden made a place for heavy metal in alternative rock. Their fellow Seattle rockers Green River may have spearheaded the grunge sound, but they relied on noise rock in the vein of the Stooges. Similarly, Jane's Addiction were too fascinated with prog rock and performance art to appeal to a wide array of metal fans. Soundgarden, however, developed directly out of the grandiose blues-rock of Led Zeppelin and the sludgy, slow riffs of Black Sabbath. Which isn't to say they were a straight-ahead...
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