Whenever any album pops up on a “Top 100 Albums of All Time” list I always feel a little skeptical. I found most of the albums on the list are decent enough, but most of the time I don’t understand what all the fuss is about. I expected the same for this record, luckily I was proven wrong. Full of exciting and unique songs that found the band expanding their sound and experimenting with different music styles, this really is one of the best albums of the 90‘s and of any time.
Though the opening song “Let Me Drown” is decent enough, it’s not the most exciting track on the album. The music is good, but it’s so heavy and distorted at times that you can’t even hear Chris Cornell’s vocals. All his singing gets drowned out by the music and it’s pretty annoying, but the song itself isn’t terrible. Things really pick up with “My Wave.” The music here is so good you start moving to it before you know it. The opening guitar riff stands out mostly because of the awesome groove it has. It also shows that it won’t be all distortion on the record. It’s an exciting song that seems to be about expressing yourself even if it’s just expelling your hate.
Of course fan favorites “Black Hole Sun” and “Spoonman” are on the album. The former song is a trippy classic that paints a bleak picture of Armageddon, while the latter is kind of upbeat, I always found it to be a humorous song just because it’s odd to sing about someone who plays spoons. Also, I love the way Cornell screams “Spoonman!” during the chorus. The song is also memorable because it actually features Artis the Spoonman playing his signature instrument. Hearing all the rhythm he can get out of those is actually pretty amazing and it’s cool that the band let’s the listener experience it for a while. Even though these songs are great, there are many others here that are classics in their own right.
With 15 tracks, it’s hard to talk about every song here, especially because they’re all so good. I usually don’t like long albums because the songs seem to get dull after awhile, but the entire record stayed exciting all the way through, but there are certain songs that stick out in my mind. “Kickstand” is a short, sweet, rock n roll tune that for some reason reminds me of the Foo Fighters. It seems to have more of Soundgarden’s early punk influences with the speeding guitars and the general fast pace of the song. “4th of July” starts out really eerie with heavy crunching guitars and Cornell sounding hypnotized as he sings. According to the band, the song is about LSD, but the descriptions of sparks in the sky made me think it was about the end of the world, but all the explosions made it look like the 4th of July.
What makes this album interesting is that the band expands their sound here. During this time and even afterwords, they were pegged as a grunge band, but after hearing this record it’s hard to stick them in any one place. Sometimes the sonic change is as simple as including more heavy metal influence in the music like on “Mailman,” or having psychedelic elements reminiscent of the 60’s sound like on “The Day I Tried to Live.” But the oddest track here is the Middle Eastern inspired “Half.” This song sounds like nothing else on the record; if anything it sounds like a genuine Middle Eastern song even down to the singing. It took me a while to realize that Ben Shepard was actually on vocal duty. Up until then I thought it was a sample from an exotic song. It may not be the best track on the album and it may have worked better as a b-side, but it’s a great example of how the band was willing to experiment with their sound.
With titles such as “Like Suicide,” “Fell on Black Days,” and “Fresh Tendrils” it’s no surprise that most of the songs deal with dark themes. Many of the tracks make references to suicide, death, and insecurity. On “Head Down” not only does the music sounds really creepy, but Cornell sounds demented as he sings about life taking away the simplest pleasures, like smiling. Just that idea is unnerving. And “The Day I Tried to Live” is one of the most depressing tracks on the album since it seems to be about someone contemplating whether or not it’s worth it go on another day.
Overall, the album gets 9/10. Thanks to the diverse sound, the musical complexity, and Cornell’s unique vocals really makes this one of the best albums ever. Not only is every track great, but it’s held up really well over the years. It also shows why Soundgarden was one of the most exciting and promising bands of their time. If all you know about the band is “Black Hole Sun,” do yourself a favor and get a copy of this album. It’s something you’ll want to listen to over and over again.