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Experimental/Alt Rock? - 76%

Insin, April 27th, 2015

Often considered to be a disappointing follow-up to the highly acclaimed Superunknown, Down on the Upside is disregarded within Soundgarden’s discography. It was their last album before their breakup in 1997, and the struggle for control over their musical direction shows through into the album (not that this messes with their ever-present time signature trickery).

If Superunknown was a departure from metal, Down on the Upside is even tamer, more mainstream, and less heavy. Most of it has a strong alternative rock feel, even more so than on Superunknown, except for the occasional more experimental songs (see Applebite). The only song on here that could pass for metal is Never the Machine Forever (Kim Thayil’s sole writing credit – not a coincidence). The band focused less on quality (while this still exists) and more on quantity, writing sixteen songs for 65 minutes. A drop in quality occurs after Burden in My Hand, easily the best song on the album: an upbeat, bouncier piece with oddly dark lyrics. If you haven’t been enjoying yourself prior to that point, you might as well turn off the album.

After all, DOTU could do with some trimming. Towards the end, it becomes almost a chore to listen to, with mediocre song after mediocre song. Some of these would have been better off as B-sides, and Soundgarden would have released a shorter but improved version of Down on the Upside.

Soundgarden emphasizes a lot of different sounds and styles on this release. Just to name a few, we have punk, experimental, and even a mandolin-based song, and a variety of moods, from mellow tracks to upbeat pieces to the enraged chorus of Ty Cobb. Variety improves an album, and DOTU has it, but none of these songs straying from the band’s characteristic sound are really good or standouts; they’re somehow lacking much appeal, generic and unoriginal, but passable. And then there are the more typical Soundgarden tracks: Pretty Noose, Rhinosaur, Burden in My Hand, and the lyrically depressing Blow Up the Outside World. While they’re not the heavier type of songs found in the band’s first three albums, they still carry some of the trademark sound, only in an alt rock style. Unsurprisingly, the songs from the latter category tend to stand out as highlights. This incoherence of the album reveals the disjointedness of the band that would contribute to their breakup shortly after DOTU’s release.

There’s no bad song on the album, but some of them are just kind of… there. A sense of inconsistency plagues Down on the Upside, but it’s not one that ruins the entire album or deems it unlistenable, by any means. The highlights, Burden in My Hand especially, are definitely worth listening for any fan; the rest can be missed. If you’re new to Soundgarden, the best place to start would be with Badmotorfinger or Superunknown, to hear the band at its peak.