Wednesday, July 27, 2011

CD Odyssey Disc 304: Soundgarden

After a quick return to Tom Petty, random patterns emerge again, with a quick return to Soundgarden.

Disc 304 is...Down On The Upside

Artist: Soundgarden

Year of Release: 1996

What’s Up With The Cover?: I'm not sure. Is it the band standing behind a curtain waiting for an encore? Given this was Soundgarden's last album together (until this year's reunion tour) it is a bit ironic, if that's what it is depicting.

How I Came To Know It: My friend Greg introduced me to the band well before this record. I bought this album many years after it came out (maybe ten). I'm not sure why I waited so long - I think the intervening years featured a lot of folk and swing music though.

How It Stacks Up: I have five Soundgarden albums. Of the five, I must regrettably put "Down On The Upside" in last place, at 5th.

Rating: 2 stars.

"Down On The Upside" is Soundgarden's last album before they broke up over creative differences (the number one reason for a band to break up assuming none of the members is dating Yoko Ono).

While I am a huge Soundgarden fan, and was excited to hear this record after somehow missing it in 1996. Whether it is the creative differences between the members, or just a change in their sound, it has never resonated with me. From time to time I put it on in the hopes that it will be better with some distance, but I am inevitably disappointed.

Part of the reason is the record is a disjointed mix of styles. This can sometimes be a good thing - showing a band's range (think the Beatles' White Album). However, it is tricky to pull off, and in the case of "Down On The Upside" it results in making the record difficult to get an ear for. In places, it sounds like a cross between old Soundgarden and Radiohead; in others it sounds like the band is channeling punk.

Mostly, I liked the record when they stuck to what they know best; namely Chris Cornell's powerful vocals soaring melodically over top of some ultra-heavy Kim Thayil guitar grooves. Notable songs include "Pretty Noose" and "Rhinosaur".

However, the record, which sits at a slightly bloated 16 tracks, has few moments like these two songs, which are the first two you hear. After that despite sharp playing and good production, few tracks are noteable. Worse, the album length is over 65 minutes as well, which is too long for a record of this nature (or for most records for that matter).

Cornell's lyrics are self-confident and speak of keeping your inner spirit despite the world around you threatening to drag you down. He means for the lyrics to come off as self-affirming, but to me it was a case of the artist protesting too much. It is clear on this album that he has some frustration to work out creatively. Instead, he chooses to sing about how everything is rosey, and it just comes off as false. Soundgarden would've been better off to channel all their frustrations with each other into the art (Fleetwood Mac did it for "Rumours", to great success).

The record has some good moments, and no one can deny they are incredibly talented musicians, but "Down On the Upside" is for completionists only in my opinion.

Best tracks: Pretty Noose, Rhinosaur, Blow Up The Outside World

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