Register Forgot login?

© 2002-2019
Encyclopaedia Metallum

Best viewed
without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
or higher.

Privacy Policy

Just OK - 68%

gasmask_colostomy, November 23rd, 2016

As debut albums go, there are two camps. One trend is for a band to start their career with a release that can't be bettered, including all their best ideas and energy, ultimately living in the shadow of that debut for their whole career. The other way is perhaps a more interesting approach and summed up very well by Anthony Kiedis, the frontman of Red Hot Chili Peppers. Kiedis reckons that a band's career is like making love to a woman (he thinks everything is like that, but whatever) although I don't have the quote at hand so I'm going to paraphrase: the debut album is like a first lingering glance or a sultry touch on the thigh, while the second is when you start to kiss deeply, then the third gets into heavy petting territory, before you can finally slip it in on the fourth. To be honest, I'm not sure if Kiedis was mixing metaphors with baseball, but that "slowly, slowly" approach does seem apt for Soundgarden and their Ultramega OK debut.

Of course ludicrously named, one should not be expecting the height of seriousness from such an album, as a brief scan through the song titles will be quick to corroborate. I think it's probably 'Nazi Driver' that does it for me, even if it's not that kind of driver (a slave driver according to the lyrics), but 'He Didn't' is pretty amusing all the same. Fortunately the band are pretty irreverent with their riffs as well, playing around a kind of garage/punk rock attitude with more classic chops and the weirdness of scenes still yet to come. Those scenes are not only grunge, but also art rock and the American sludge scene that gets hinted at on 'Beyond the Wheel' and some of the heavier tracks. The style of the music is thus difficult to pin down since it takes some obvious cues from older bands like Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, and even some of the more freaky speed rock bands out of the '80s, while the ongoing effect of Soundgarden's music was to turn heads in the likes of Kyuss, Alice in Chains, and White Zombie, who one would not usually mention all in the same sentence.

As a result of all those strands, this album feels messy even at (or maybe because of) a shortish length, since lots of things happen quickly and sometimes in a de-emphasized way so that you have to track back to find out what just happened. Songs bounce about between fast and slow, inspired and insipid, cliched and creative, and serious and humorous, leaving the overall effect rather wanting, as if one were watching a fashion show for both humans and animals. Whatever the case, there are good riffs to be found on the likes of 'He Didn't', 'Nazi Driver', and 'Circle of Power', which has the enraged punk shrieking of bassist Hiro Yamamoto instead of Chris Cornell's highly-strung leather yowl, though proves very effective nonetheless. There's a cover of 'Smokestack Lightning' that is not bad but wanting something more, a brooding old school doom song in 'Incessant Mace' (perhaps the least fitting title one could think of for a brooding old school doom song), and then the more laidback 'Mood for Trouble', which plays it comparatively safe. None of the main songs are downright bad, although the mixture isn't terribly helpful for the album's stability.

Quite honestly, it's difficult to analyze the album much further than that, nor do I think Soundgarden put as much thought into thinking out their music as I'm doing now. The band play pretty tight and there's no mistaking that the instrumentalists deserve high praise for keeping things together at the same time as being creative, yet it's a little tough to say that anyone stands out more than the others. Since the mix is a bit distant and fuzzy, Cornell doesn't have so much effect here as he would have on Badmotorfinger or Superunknown, mostly staying high-pitched like an older rock vocalist and lacking the power and smoothness of his later efforts. What I would definitely say about this incarnation of Soundgarden is that if you had stumbled into a pub mid-1988 and happened to catch their set, you would certainly have stayed until the end and gone home dizzy and sweaty to boot, probably determined to remember their name. This isn't a very focused first step to a relatively big career, though if you ask me Soundgarden have never totally settled down, just got lucky enough to become popular. And if you ask Anthony Kiedis, the first meeting is just the time when you know you're going to get lucky.