photo & text by nacrowe
it is difficult to overstate the importance of SOUNDGARDEN's fourth studio album SUPERUNKNOWN (A&M, 1994) in my young life as a music listener. unapologetically, i am most definitely a 90s kid and as such, as ive repeated on this blog before, was gifted both SUPERUNKOWN and PEARL JAM's VITALOGY (review linked HERE) in what had to have been christmas 1994. i should also mentioned shortly after such my first record purchase was a compact disc copy of LIVING COLOUR's VIVID (review linked HERE). so not a bad first foray indeed. that being said i am emotionally tied to this album so this review will not be some pseudo-critical appraisal of its worth. to me the experience of listening to this era of SOUNDGARDEN is akin to reliving my childhood. so that is my bias.
compared to its predecessor, the similarly stellar BADMOTORFINGER (A&M, 1991), SUPERUNKOWN is more psychedelic and sonically expansive, incorporating nontraditional instrumentation (i.e. spoon percussion on "SPOONMAN") and their requisite odd time signatures that still manage to be highly contagious and earworm-y. standout tracks include "4TH OF JULY," "FRESH TENDRILS," "HEAD DOWN," "FELL ON BLACK DAYS," "LIKE SUICIDE," "MY WAVE," "SUPERUNKNOWN," "LET ME DROWN," "SPOONMAN," "THE DAY I TRIED TO LIVE" and of course the generational ALTERNATIVE ROCK anthem that is "BLACK HOLE SUN." okay, i realize that i just named most the tracks on the album, but that is kind of the point here. its a landmark album with many of the best tracks of their career, hands down.
growing up my personal favorite track was the title track, "SUPERUNKNOWN," which slowly builds from a mixolydian sounding eastern single note riff that expands and and enlarges until the choruses and guitar solos engulf the universe. guitarist KIM THAYIL is an absolute wizard and is criminally underrated amongst his ALTERNATIVE ROCK peers. the dude is an utterly unique and has a preternaturally deft ear for both crushing riffs and dynamic texture shifts. that said, "SUPERUNKNOWN" itself is an absolutely epic track sonically that lyrically is about SELF-TRANSFORMATION and stepping into the unknown despite your personal MISGIVINGS, INSECURITIES and TREPIDATIONS. that song alone has been the soundtrack to all my "fuck lets go decisions" over the years from joining PEACE CORPS in ALBANIA to any number of teaching jobs i took in quasi-safe locales ranging from VENEZUELA to MYANMAR.
the brutally guttural guitar tone of "4TH OF JULY" has been immensely influential on the EXTREME METAL genre of DRONE METAL, particularly key bands like BORIS, JESU and especially SUNN O))). that deep low-tuned guitar absolutely crushes and propels the listener on a slow plodding sonic dirge not experienced before, even by the likes of SLUDGE METAL bands like MELVINS or NEUROSIS. lyrically the song is uses natural imagery to thematically espouse on concepts related to MORAL REBIRTH and PERSONAL REJUVENATION in the wake of some undefined debasing experience. such a revelation is personally experienced by the narrator through a massive thunderclap and natural visual display that borders on the sublime. i always interpreted the song as that moment when a transformative idea comes to conscious fruition from whatever subterranean depths and unknown processes it came out of.
i could go down the line here song by song but i wont. suffice to say that SUPERUNKNOWN is required listening and is the ultimate showcase of the almost ALCHEMICAL ARTISTIC SYNERGY of these four talented musicians: all of whom are songwriters. CHRIS CORNELL with his voice and songwriting abilities are a revelation unto itself, making him easily the standard bearer amongst his ALTERNATIVE ROCK peers. what a generational talent he was. BEN SHEPHERD likewise contributed one of my favorite tracks ("HEAD DOWN") and his ability for composing interesting arrangements and odd textural juxtapositions is the secret weaon of the band. KIM THAYIL like i said before is a wizard and experimental riff meister of the first order (right there in my mind with DIMEBAG DARRELL of PANTERA). and MATT CAMERON and his adroit and tasteful percussion choices throughout laid the groundwork for one of the most experimental and artistically successful ROCK AND ROLL albums ever.
but then again i am incredibly biased.
REST IN PEACE CHRIS CORNELL.
photo & text by nacrowe
i remember this album being referred to as UP ON THE SUCKSIDE by a middle school friend of mine in NIGERIA upon its release in the mid-1990s. i never thought that was a fair assessment.
i think SOUNDGARDEN's DOWN ON THE UPSIDE (A&M, 1996) suffered in comparison to the iconic ALTERNATIVE ROCK band's previous SUPERUNKNOWN (A&M, 1994) and BADMOTORFINGER (A&M, 1991) records, which were stellar examples of tuneful songwriting and massive-sounding music production that resulted in a sound that effectively split the difference between BLACK SABBATH and THE BEATLES. to my ears this album was more musically experimental sonically and texturally with songs like "APPLEBITE," "SWITCH OPENS," "ZERO CHANCE," "TIGHTER & TIGHTER," and "BOOT CAMP" all playing with droning open chords and looping drum patterns that create a hypnotizing mantra of sorts not that dissimilar from traditional INDIAN music. i can see now such would be a bit off putting to a fan of those previous aforementioned records. of course there were singles such as "PRETTY NOOSE," "BLOW UP THE OUTSIDE WORLD" and "BURDEN IN MY HAND" that showcase the incredible vocals of CHRIS CORNELL and the idiosyncratic guitar heroics of KIM THAYIL in a more recognizable and traditional SOUNDGARDEN format that would makes sense on previous releases.
a standout track for me includes "TY COBB," which is such a spit-in-your-eye fury of aggression that never seized to get me revved up as it did as a teenager before a sporting event. in a sense its lyrics did give off the misanthropic and malcontent vibe of the actual TY COBB with its "hard-headed, fuck you all" refrain. a similar vibe is also apparent on "NO ATTENTION" and "AN UNKIND."
my memory of this record upon its release is clouded by the breakup of the band a few months later. i really remember being bummed about that since i felt that was a DOWN ON THE UPSIDE strong record that was more diverse and ultimately interesting than their previous output. seemed a waste. i was overjoyed when they returned many years later if only because it meant the return of the immensely inventive and criminally underrated and under-appreciated THAYIL, who was always a favorite of mine going back to childhood.
definitely check out DOWN ON THE UPSIDE, an under-appreciated album by a seminal rock band.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
i think people are aware enough of the innovative and controversial shenanigans that have taken place on the HOWARD STERN SHOW over the years. it is pretty amazing that he is being finally recognized in his late career for his singular interviewing skills, i'd even argue that his shows now are among the best of his career. just wish he'd stay off those lame network talent shows.
regardless i think often overlooked as well are the number of amazing music performances that have taken place on his radio show, mostly of the ALTERNATIVE ROCK, METAL and CLASSIC ROCK variety including the likes of CHRIS CORNELL, JOHN FOGERTY (CREEDANCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL), FIONA APPLE, DAVE GROHL (NIRVANA/FOO FIGHTERS), BILLY CORGAN (THE SMASHING PUMPKINS), ROB ZOMBIE (WHITE ZOMBIE), DAVID BOWIE, PERRY FARRELL (PORNO FOR PYROS / JANE'S ADDICTION)
definitely check some of these out and see what i mean.
photo by nacrowe
with the impending second bankruptcy of GUITAR CENTER likely to be finalized at the close of this month, it seemed as good a time as ever to look back at the live performance series GUITAR CENTER SESSIONS that they co-produced with DIRECT TV that took advantage of their iconic flagship HOLLYWOOD location.
it feels like the end of an era with their impending doom, but sadly they never took advantage of the internet and basically ceded that ground to competitors like SWEETWATER. it is mind-bogging that COVID knocked them out give that this lockdown period we've been living through has sold more guitars and instruments then any other period in history. just think about that.
oh well, at least we have these performances until they inevitably get taken down.
photo manipulations by nacrowe
edited and directed by famed director CAMERON CROWE from a career's worth of footage culled from the archives of countless videographers and filmmakers, PJ20 (VINYL FIILMS, 2011) is the story of PEARL JAM a in essence a celebration of their then 20-year career.
in essence the story of PEARL JAM is the story of the independent music scene in SEATTLE, which grew from a small, intimate community of like-minded supportive musicians to absolute world dominance and probably the last major ROCK AND ROLL scene ever as well as the last cultural movement of the pre-internet age.
commentary from the likes of CHRIS CORNELL really brings into perspective the uncompetitive nature of the scene, as he gained much from sharing a place with ANDY WOOD, lead singer of MOTHER LOVE BONE. his death from a heroin overdose was a turning point in the scene as he was a vibrant source of energy and projected his enthusiasm for music and art on all those that came in his path. years later speaking about his passing still evokes sorrow and empathy from his former bandmates and friends.
it was his passing and the sudden demise of MOTHER LOVE BONE that marked the beginning of PEARL JAM as its members STONE GOSSARD and JEFF AMENT, also formerly of GREEN RIVER, created a demo that ultimately landed in the hands of EDDIE VEDDER.
much of this film gets into the challenge of maintaining an identity when the world around you changes their perception of you, as happened with VEDDER when PEARL JAM, along with other members of the SEATTLE scene (NIRVANA, SOUNDGARDEN, ALICE IN CHAINS, etc) became famous. dealing with stalkers as well as "punk rock guilt" for having success definitely affected the band up until they toured with NEIL YOUNG around the time of VITALOGY (EPIC, 1994).
in what i consider the most poignant part of the film, there is a taped message from YOUNG stating that when he read KURT COBAIN in a magazine state that he was having difficulty maintaining his authenticity and "keeping it real" in this circus-like environment, he wanted to tell COBAIN that he owed nothing to anybody and should cancel shows. after touring with YOUNG, PEARL JAM were affected by his mentorship and especially his opinions on fame. essentially YOUNG stays true to his muse and enjoys the ride, which sometimes finds him playing arenas and sometimes mid-sized or small theaters. but his integrity is intact.
there is also mention of the influence of COBAIN on PEARL JAM, which was essentially consider your choices (political, business, artistic) and own them. they took such in earnest moving forward after his passing and you can definitely see this influence in their stance against TICKETMASTER as well as VEDDER stating during the telecast that the GRAMMY his band just won had no meaning. they definitely kept it real. it also helped them in the wake of the ROSKILDE disaster, when they learned to say no. i can't imagine how heartbreaking that tragedy was for them, just horrific to think about.
like any retelling of an event or scene pre-internet and pre-SOCIAL MEDIA, many of these concepts related to "punk rock guilt" seem both antiquated and highly relevant in our digital age. antiquated because there is no more record industry, no more corporate ogre to sell out to anymore. yet absolutely relevant because the eye of digital media never sleeps and has probably only become more intense to musicians and pop stars in the age of TMZ and the modern security state. i would not wish to be famous these days, as the invasion of privacy quotient has gone up exponentially. fans are ever more obsessed and everyone is a self-appointed expert and has a blog(!) spouting their opinion into the ether.
PJ20 came out in 2011 but was filmed up until the touring behind the 2009 release of the BACKSPACER (MONKEYWRENCH, 2009) LP, which included jabs in concert at the outgoing BUSH ADMINISTRATION. i can't wait to see if they make PJ30 and what that portends about our current fall from grace. if anything, the past 10 years of AMERICAN history has dwarfed the corruption and lawlessness of the previous 200. interested in seeing how their past informs their longstanding advocacy of ENVIRONMENTAL concerns and REPRODUCTIVE rights, especially now in our collective doomed era of TRUMP.
can't wait for that sequel.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
MARK LANEGAN is a national treasure. i feel bad comparing artists sometimes when they are both great, but for my tastes (as i explained in a recent DEER GOD RADIO episode dedicated to 4AD RECORDS) LANEGAN is the equal if not superior singer to his celebrated SEATTLE contemporary CHRIS CORNELL of SOUNDGARDEN.
first off, i love them both. in fact i have a whole DGR episode dedicated to SOUNDGARDEN. what separates them to me is the depth of feeling that LANEGAN seems to drive from. there is something primordial, immediate and just dark that comes off in his singing, like he is channeling some deep inner pain in the best tradition of BILLIE HOLIDAY. when i listen to CORNELL i admire his abilities as a lyricist foremost and his range second, but its like comparing ELLA FITZGERALD with BILLIE HOLIDAY. one has better range and diction and the other has the voice that is suffering incarnate.
if you are unfamiliar with LANEGAN or his work in SCREAMING TREES, QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE or his solo work and collaborative albums, i highly suggest you check the dude out. definitely worth the effort.
parody by nacrowe
in honor of their forthcoming reunion, please check out HERE this recent streaming video episode of DEER GOD RADIO on legendary HIP HOP/ALTERNATIVE band RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE!
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST, THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW and CLASSICAL-ISH WITH NUTMEG are available here at the DEER GOD website.
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