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So, if this is grunge... - 100%

mastodon_t, January 1st, 2009

Oh, Lord! If I could give it a 101% then I would! This has got to be one of the records I've listened to the most in my entire life. Since the day I bought it it's been with me and I know I will never grow tired of it.

Before I start dissecting the platter song by song I'd like to underline something: anybody out there still thinks that this is grunge? I am asking this because I'd like to hear someone's opinion on the matter; if this is actually grunge, then what's Nirvana? And Pearl Jam? And if those two are grunge, then what's this?
For far too long Soundgarden has been tagged a grunge band but the title fits them as that of political refugee fits Tony Montana.

So, in my opinion, this is as far away from grunge as you can get. Meaning that the songs on here being melodic and somewhat radio-friendly and at the same time finding throughout the whole album 9 or 10 different guitar tunings and barely a 4\4 is totally due to the fact that the musicians involved are of the highest level possible in both creativity\song-writing and inclination towards experimentation.

So, here's the songs the way I see them:

The opening track, "Let Me Drown" is the quintessential Soundgarden: mammoth riffs, high-pitched/abrasive screams opposed to more melodic and quite memorable relaxed vocals. A slower mid-part that breaks into the most terrifying scream in Cornell's whole repertoire takes you slowly to the crescendo that is the solo (and a great solo it is!) , all backed by the most creative and talented rhythmic section of the '90 (Sheperd and Cameron, bass and drums, respectively). Songs like this, the punk-ish “Kickstand” (barely two minutes of pure ass-kicking rock), the spaced-out title-track and the funk-tribal-hard-rock of “Spoonman” form the heavy backbone of the album.

All the other songs reference the same level of intensity while sensibly departing from the hard- rocking approach in favour of a more contorted, oddball type of song-writing.
The 5/4 of "My Wave" (with it’s outro being a neuron-killer with Kim Tahyl's guitar comfortably warbling undefined extraterrestrial sounds), the unstable structures of “Mailman” and “Fresh Tendrils”, and “Limo Wreck” referencing Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed And Confused” are a perfect example of this.

"Fell On Black Days", is possibly the quieter, more MTV friendly song of the lot, along with “The Day I Tried To Live”. These songs show how Chris Cornell’s creativity has evolved over the three years since the release of “BadMotorFinger” and how much his voice has matured. Michael Beinhorn’s production needs a special note regarding these tracks, because without his wizardry they wouldn’t probably sound as good as they do.

The three most unique songs of the lot and also the most creative: "Head Down", trippy, contorted, irregular, psychedelic, unusual, unexpected, undeniably beautiful. Penned by Sheperd and interpreted by the band in a truly masterly fashion (especially Cameron's drum job with all those odd signatures is jaw-dropping).
Then there’s "Black Hole Sun": everything about this song is pushed to the limit, the concept, the execution, even the imagery of the video, and it's a song that nobody will ever touch, something that was completely new at the time of it's release and still is now. I wish somebody nowadays was capable of something like this!
Another “song” by Sheperd, “Half" is an eclectic collection of sounds coming out of a wide lot of instruments all played by him, with April Acevez and Justine Foy backing him with their strings. The result is another trippy and unusual, yet easily enjoyable tune that gives us an idea of what Sheperd's twisted brains are capable to elaborate.
These songs are the most daring and experimenting songs of the lot.

Later on the album Chris Cornell gives us two more unforgettable masterpieces, two songs that nobody, in my opinion, will ever even come close to: "4th Of July", panzer cadence (or better, in this case, decadence), the most beautiful lyrics and most effective vocals on the whole album. The verses guitar riff beautifully espouses Cornells amazing voice leading to the chorus in a crescendo of emotions that makes my goose-bumps wanna explode and bleed! Then there’s the masterful, haunting ballad "Like Suicide", a final dark ride into his deepest emotions It's unbelievable how a musician can create such musical beauty based solely on a single event of his life. This song in fact, is dedicated to a bird that Cornell, let's say, "mercy-killed" after he found it, wounded and agonizing, in his room; but, reading the lyrics for the first time and not knowing the little anecdote behind it, I bet anybody would think what I thought: that this song was depicting some important woman or, anyway, a person, in Cornell's life. But no, a fucking bird! As for the song, this is just as perfect a ballad as it can possibly be. It's got everything it needs: the usual set of amazingly beautiful vocals that just match perfectly with the music, an incredibly haunting bridge and an even better chorus, a powerful mid-section that backs-up a brilliant and masterful solo... you can't possibly ask for more! It's just pure perfection!

The album closes with "She Likes Surprises", part funk, part metal, part blues, all Soundgarden. Again odd times, again great vocals and the weirdest break in Soundgarden's discography make of this tune a little jewel that functions as the perfect cherry-on-top of a great album.
An album that marked a decade, that marked the zenith of a band and that is, to me, the highest point ever reached by an alternative rock/metal band. A piece of history, a must have!