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The lost Soundgarden album - 85%

Milo, February 21st, 2010

Louder than Love” is the least remembered album by Soundgarden. Maybe for being too focused in heavy metal, slow tempos and atmosphere for the mainstream, people can’t seem to remember any song off it except “Hands all Over”. However, like in other Soundgarden albums, there are a few worthy items here, in dire need of exposure. Perhaps a fan may provide a good description of these twelve tracks lost amidst the band’s trademark hits from other albums.

Louder than Love is hardly an accessible album. The production is pretty murky when compared to most mainstream rock albums (although the band wanted to murk it up even more), slower tempos abound and for the most part, Chris Cornell doesn’t seem to care much about pretty vocal lines and easy melodies. The music is dirty and oppressive. The thing is, “Louder than Love” is an album for those who enjoy cryptic music and appreciate guitars, even if they aren’t catchy in the most obvious sense of the word, which is not really the case with mainstream listeners. However, I can admit there are a few debatable tracks here, regardless of the public. “Power Trip” has this interesting, mangled-yet-catchy guitar line for a chorus but it’s too bluesy and that might not click with everyone. However, it’s hardly a bad song. I really like its forays into the bassier, gloomier ends of the spectrum. “No Wrong No Right” is a bit too thin instrumentally and Chris’ vocals don’t carry any remarkable melody. Probably the worst track of the album. “Get on the Snake” is a solid track that will please the rock-inclined but it’s definitively overshadowed by stronger material. “Full On (reprise)” is not needed. However, there are plenty of highlights scattered all over the album.

An interesting track here is “Ugly Truth”. Absurdly non-catchy, creeping and atmospheric, it doesn’t sound like the most appropriate album opener for the average listener. However, those who appreciate a good off-kilter, irregular riff are in for a nice treat. This song shines for maintaining a peaceful yet sinister mood, which is much like prowling through an urban wasteland at night. Although it’s all quiet now, something dangerous might happen. All of that because of that riff, which shows Chris Cornell’s gift for atmosphere (yes, he is not only the vocalist, but also composed much of this album). “Ugly Truth” has that dawn-like atmosphere which makes everything even more awesome and different from other bands. Other songs in the band’s catalog that employ this technique are “Searching with My Good Eye Closed” (both from Badmotorfinger) and their definite classic “The Day I Tried to Live”, from Superunknown.

If “Ugly Truth” is ambivalent in its atmosphere, “I Awake” is distinctly somber and unnerving all the way. Its introduction is pretty twisted and the riffs are too creepy and heavy, almost descriptive of a nightmare, or even worse. Chris Cornell wailing “I love you, I love you!” over the chainsaw guitars makes me think of some kind of dysfunctional relationship reaching its limit… with things getting really tense. It’s a great overlooked track with remarkable development of moods around a simple riff. The same could be said about “Uncovered”, which is reminiscent of Mind Riot, from Badmotorfinger. Employing melody in a more straightforward manner, this song evokes a more organic, comforting atmosphere, which is a welcome and needed change of pace.

The heavy metal crowd has a probable favorite here in “Gun”. Another menacing, malevolent song, it alternates medium pace and speed to develop a full-blown assault full of huge riffs and muscular attack, showing good understanding of what a true metal song needs to have. The highlight of the song, however, is the well-done doomy section and its looming riffs, result of the ever-present Black Sabbath influence. The build-ups and the way the riff arrangement are also flawless and manage to keep the listener on his toes. The punky “Full on Kevin’s Mom” is the fastest song on the album, complete with D-beats and all. It’s more lighthearted than most songs in the album, with a bit of hard rock sleaze and lyrics about some dude getting his mom plowed by a douchebag friend. That “mommy!” scream is pretty funny.

And then we have the most famous songs on the album. “Loud Love” is a heavy rocker that oscillates between medium and slower pace (although it can’t be considered an oppressive song like “I Awake” or “Gun”), but has nice vocal lines, solid riffs and a good chorus which justify its choice as a single. One thing I really like about this song is the intro and its mysterious, floating guitar line. It’s the most serene moment of the album. Soundgarden really has a knack for writing memorable songs which doesn’t rely on speed. Sometimes heavy, sometimes peaceful, a few melodic touches, all of that unfolding slowly and coordinately. All of this goes on in “Loud Love”. “Big Dumb Sex” is a catchy rocker with the infamous, massive chorus: “I’m gonna fuck, fuck, fuck, FUCK YOU!” These purposefully silly lyrics (the whole song, actually) are a parody of the “hair metal” bands of the 80’s and the poor metaphors for sex in their lyrics. Apparently, Guns n’ Roses didn’t really get the joke and actually made a cover of the song, configuring delightful irony. Not an excellent track, but making Axl Rose shoot himself in the foot awards it a few extra points.

And finally, we have “Hands all Over”, the jewel of the crown, one of the best songs ever written by the band. It’s so masterful, fluid… Another atmospheric masterpiece, it rumbles at a placid medium tempo, laden by beautiful eastern-influenced guitar work which evokes intense imagery of forests and oceans, as if we were gazing at them from above, not in a noisy helicopter or airplane, but just floating in the air, such is the peace summoned by the riffs. The lyrics are actually a bitter environmental plea discussing the treatment dispensed by us to our mother nature. A really beautiful song that deserves a listen in case you’ve never gave it one.

So, this is “Louder than Love” for you, and you should give it a listen if you have at least a bit of affinity with rock. In fact, I believe this album has a better chance of success in the hands of metalheads than straight rock fans, because we are more accustomed to darkness, slower tempos, rawer production and emphasis on atmosphere and guitars. Trust me, your reaction to this album won’t be “oh, there are a few metal riffs in here too”, but probably something in the lines of “man, these guys can really write good heavy metal, good rock and it rules”. Don’t trust those who say the album “drifts along without focus or variety”. It might need a little time to sink in, but it’s worth it. It’s not that far from Badmotorfinger and Superunknown in my Soundgarden tier list.