If you’ve come for a history lesson or empirical-based data sheet, you’re in the wrong place. The only facts here are pure, honest-to-God music and lyrics. That is the only “data” I have. So let’s get to it!
First, let me point out what will be obvious to you if you already love Soundgarden/Audioslave/Chris Cornell’s solo work, and what should be reinforced if you’re not already a big fan: Chris Cornell is a fucking powerhouse vocalist. He has the loud, aggressive, gritty vocals for the typical “rock band” sound, while also being able to produce the finesse and delicacy of high, sustained notes, and alternately, the pipes to create deep, rich, brooding vocals. Specific examples will be noted in the third entry, but let’s just start where Soundgarden begins and ends for me. That is Chris Cornell. Guitarist Kim Thayil is a beast; drummer Matt Cameron is one of the better ones of his time; all other supporting players and contributing members were all well and good. But Soundgarden would not be my favorite grunge band, nor one of my favorite bands of all time, if it weren’t for my man CC. So let’s just be perfectly clear.
Songwriting is an exceptional point for Soundgarden, and the second topic I want to cover here. But I’ll let the lyrics do the talking (just a few of my favorites):
“Sitting here like uninvited company; wallowing in my own obscenities. I share a cigarette with negativity” (Drawing Flies)
“Looking for a pedestal that I can put you on and be on my way” (Searching with My Good Eye Closed)
“Holy water is rusting me” / “Damn the water if it’s life you want to drink” (Holy Water – Both of these lines are really simple, yet powerful in delivery and imagery)
“Well that’s right I want something to explode; I’ve been deaf now I want noise” (Loud Love)
“Whomsoever I’ve cured, I’ve sickened now; Whomsoever I’ve cradled, I’ve put you down” (Fell On Black Days)
“I woke the same as any other day except a voice was in my head. It said seize the day, pull the trigger, drop the blade, and watch the rolling heads” (The Day I Tried to Live – Pretty much all of this song.)
“Oh hey I want to write the magazines the housewives read. And I want to be in control of everything. I want to be King” (Power Trip)
“I’m looking California and feeling Minnesota” / “I’m feeling that I’m sober, even though I’m drinking; I can’t get any lower, still I feel I’m sinking” (Outshined)
“Virgin eyes and dirty looks, on what I have and why I took. Counting all the hands I shook. Now I know why you’ve been shaking” (Slaves and Bulldozers)
“Share, if it makes you sleep, if it sets you free, if it helps you breathe” (My Wave – hey it’s about Facebook)
Song composition is the last topic I want to cover. I am only going to cover the highlights of three choice albums:
Louder Than Love
This album rocks, to put it simply. I think it would sound loud even if you turned the volume down. It’s got some gems on it. “Hands All Over”–political undertones; gritty, messy overtones; off-the-chain, piercing vocals. It’s easily my second-favorite song on the album. We’ve also got the Guns and Roses meets Rolling Stones impression on “Get on the Snake” with the signature Soundgarden riff. Pretty good song. My favorite track on the album, however, is “Loud Love”. Good, old fashioned loud rock and roll. There’s nothing masterful to dissect, and that’s what’s great. Even the methodical buildup of “Gun”, which can only be described as plodding, gives glimpses of an awesome heavy metal Soundgarden.
Now this album is where it’s at. I could write a whole blog post about this album. But I’ll stick to my favorites, going chronologically. “Rusty Cage” and “Outshined” are clearly excellent songs, both of which are some of SG’s more well-known songs. They lead off the album with this 1-2 punch of awesome. “Rusty Cage” balances the crazed, fantastic main riff and Cornell’s frantic vocals with bass and drums that turn a would-be chaotic metal song into a great grunge song. Plus, the bridge and subsequent breakdown really tie the song together, but you probably loved the song before that part anyway.
“Outshined”, on the other hand, is more evenly-arranged throughout, but it’s just as powerful. The chords sound big and thick (I’m not a musician, so I don’t know how else to describe it); the overall sound is gritty and dark; Cornell’s shriek soars above it all.
“Face Pollution” delivers an up-tempo melody and vocal delivery that I love. It’s not a “happy” song by any means, but it’s fast and in your face, and if you love grunge, you can’t help but like the song . Another great track comes to us in “Searching with My Good Eye Closed”. It’s buildup into the verses, which flows effortlessly into the chorus, and back into the verses sounds dreamy, almost like it’s trying to hypnotize you into a trance.
Next, let’s talk about “Drawing Flies”. I don’t know how to describe it, really. It’s rapid-fire lyrics, clean-sounding riff (as opposed to the grunge, dropped down tuning), and trumpet-usage don’t seem to mix, but it’s great; go hear it for yourself!
Finally, we’ll skip near to the end of the album to my undisputed favorite “Holy Water”. Okay, it’s not undisputed, but I’m pretty sure it takes down every other song on the album for me. You have religious metaphors and life lamentings, which you can see for yourself in the lyrics. But compositionally speaking, it’s brooding, introspective, deep scars grunge heaven. Heavy sound, fucking great vocals, and the subtle guitar riffs and runs that tie it together.
Generally revered as one of Soundgarden’s top two albums, if not number one, I personally find half of the songs to be dull or grating. But let’s focus on the ones that I love. One of my favorite Soundgarden songs of all-time, “Day I Tried to Live”, is phenomenal all around. POWER.HOUSE.VOCALS. That’s what first hits you. Exceptional lyrics and song design, too.
How about “Mailman”? Underrated fucking song. More reminiscent of the darker days of Soundgarden, it’s a haunting, yet melodic song. It tempers grunge guitar with Cornell’s smooth, beautiful delivery. “My Wave”. Also underrated. The melody is catchy and killer, and I don’t care if it’s not heavy metal or grunge; it’s still rock, it’s still Chris Cornell’s great voice and Matt Cameron’s great drumming.
Big hits “Black Hole Sun” and “Spoonman” are great, too. The former is melodic, erie, and has an odd combination of notes that somehow just work. The lyrics make no damn sense, and I haven’t ever bothered to look up the meaning, but whatever. I’ll still listen to it. “Spoonman” is rhythmic, vibrant, and quite catchy. I love the melody, even if, again, the lyrics mean nothing to me (I know they meant something to Cornell, but that’s irrelevant to me if it’s not translated into something universal and meaningful for the audience).
Maybe I’ll do an album review/track rankings for BadMotorFinger some day.