SOUNDGARDEN — Superunknown

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SOUNDGARDEN - Superunknown cover
4.11 | 67 ratings | 6 reviews
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Album · 1994

Tracklist

1. Let Me Drown (3:52)
2. My Wave (5:11)
3. Fell On Black Days (4:42)
4. Mailman (4:25)
5. Superunknown (5:06)
6. Head Down (6:08)
7. Black Hole Sun (5:18)
8. Spoonman (4:06)
9. Limo Wreck (5:47)
10. The Day I Tried To Live (5:19)
11. Kickstand (1:34)
12. Fresh Tendrils (4:16)
13. 4th Of July (5:08)
14. Half (2:14)
15. Like Suicide (7:11)

Total Time 70:07

Line-up/Musicians

- Chris Cornell / vocals, guitar
- Kim Thayil / lead guitar
- Ben Shepherd / bass, drums, percussion, vocals, guitar
- Matt Cameron / drums, percussion, mellotron

About this release

March 8, 1994
A&M

Bonus tracks:

16. She Likes Surprises (3:18)
17. Like Suicide (acoustic version) (6:17)

Thanks to Pekka, Stooge, Lynx33, Unitron, 666sharon666 for the updates

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EP
Polygram Records 1995
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SOUNDGARDEN SUPERUNKNOWN reviews

Specialists/collaborators reviews

Necrotica
The death of Chris Cornell was a tragedy for many rock fans across the globe, but in my case, it was an especially devastating blow to the gut. On the day of his passing, nostalgic images suddenly rushed back to my mind. I recalled my time as a young teen back in California playing the classic Superunknown over and over again on the car stereo. Those hazy summers were the perfect time to listen to some sentimental alternative rock records, but Superunknown was truly unlike anything I’d heard before (or since). Suddenly, the sludgy and grimy world of grunge was colorful and expansive. Aggression married grandiosity, and the moments of punk rock fury were paired with moments you swear you’d hear as a funeral dirge. Then psychedelia, stoner metal, 70s classic rock, and even some progressive rock were piled on as icing on the cake. And now with Cornell’s suicide fresh in people’s minds, the dark atmosphere and frequent mood swings that define Superunknown seem even more real and relevant than ever.

Truth be told, calling Superunknown a grunge album is a massive oversimplification. The 70-minute behemoth is packed with so many shades and flavors of rock music that it’s tough to know where to even begin analyzing it. But I can say one thing right off the bat: as great as the individual songs are, this album is best heard as the entire experience. It may be long, but trust me, it doesn’t feel that long despite how draining it is. There’s an overarching sadness to the record, but the emotional contrasts can add a layer of deception. For instance, “The Day I Tried to Live,” with its hopeful title and relatively upbeat (if a bit off-kilter) riff suggest an optimistic message, but the lyrics tell a different story altogether. Cornell’s charisma on the mic shines through, yes, but the transformation of imagery in the first verse is bizarre and even jaw-dropping. It goes from “seize the day” to “watch the rolling heads” in a matter of seconds, and yet Kim Thayil’s fantastic guitar leads continue to drive the piece along. Other songs bring on the aggression like a parade of bulls, such as the energetic punk jam “Kickstand” or the tight Drop-D riffing found in opener “Let Me Drown.”

But it’s the slower numbers that truly bring out the best in Superunknown. Whereas 90s grunge peers Alice in Chains would use doom metal to create a feeling of horror or sickness, Soundgarden brought the style to more grand and deeply profound places. “Black Hole Sun” sounds almost mystical in the way Thayil’s dreamlike guitar leads blend with the down-to-earth and even minimalist rhythm section, as if some spiritual being is being anchored and weighed down by reality. It’s wonderful that the band could maintain melodic sensibilities while at their darkest, which turned out to be one of their defining traits. The same goes for the closer “Like Suicide,” a song that’s recognizable by an unsettlingly cheery guitar melody while Cornell is singing about smashing a bird with a brick to end its suffering. The subject matter on Superunknown is portrayed and expressed with so much personality, even it reaches its darkest moments. Perhaps the most gloomy and deeply uncomfortable song on here is “4th of July,” a song that fully embraces the most grim and distraught aspects of grunge music and puts them on full display. The slow tread of the riff sounds like you’re watching a portrait slowly decay and melt with time, and the distortion is so thick that it puts many sludge metal bands to shame. Add to that a heavy Drop-C tuning on the guitars and the whole experience is a sound to behold.

The band members are simply fantastic here, no one truly being a weak link. I’ve already touched on Chris Cornell and Kim Thayil a bit, but bassist Ben Shepherd and drummer Matt Cameron deserve their share of praise as well. These guys had so many diverse sounds and knotty time signatures to work through, and they somehow made it sound as natural as any of the other grunge bands at the time who were always playing in 4/4. For the best showing of Cameron’s talents, I highly recommend his amazing performance in the rhythmically complex “Spoonman,” in which he has an inventive drum solo alongside somebody literally tapping spoons (known as Artis the Spoonman!). “Limo Wreck” is also great, if you want to hear how creatively he works around slower tempos. For Ben Shepherd, my favorite moment would be his incredible chemistry with Chris Cornell on the main riff of “Mailman,” an octave-hopping affair with a dreary and somewhat bluesy motif. He also kicks ass on the title track and “Kickstand,” which exhibit his (and Matt Cameron’s) speed and precision more than usual. Every member brings a great level of personality and chemistry to these tunes, and Chris Cornell’s vocal performances here are among the best he’s ever recorded. Just listen to those soaring verses in the title track, as well as those beautifully subdued moments in “4th of July”! Truly a legend.

But it’s truly heartbreaking to see him gone, as well as the fact that we probably won’t get another Soundgarden record ever again. The grunge legends of the 90s seem to be slowly dying out, and Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam is now officially the last of the Big 4 frontmen to still be alive and kicking (unless you count Jerry Cantrell). But much like Alice in Chains, Soundgarden were significant in the fact that they were able to be a bridge between grunge and other genres, especially metal. The band’s style wasn’t just black and white, but allowed to have breathing room and a wealth of diversity in the middle. Simply put, they were an incredible rock band with a distinct style, and Superunknown is their crowning achievement.
siLLy puPPy
As another fallen hero joins the ranks of the many others who checked out far too soon, it’s time to dust off one of my favorite albums from the 90s and revisit to pay homage to the great Chris Cornell who possessed one of the greatest sets of vocal chords in all of rock history much less the alternative 90s where he and SOUNDGARDEN dominated for a few short years before their own demise as a band. As the 80s had reached the tipping point into the 90s the alternative rock and metal worlds were quickly gaining momentum but SOUNDGARDEN had had a head start forming all the way back in 1984, giving them a full decade of honing their chops to become one of the biggest bands of the alternative era and with their fourth album SUPERUNKNOWN they hit payday and not only created one of the most commercially successful artifacts that the 90s had to offer but also created one of most perfected pieces of art all dressed up in grunge and metal that still sounds as stunning today as it did when it hit #1 on the Billboard charts and became certified platinum five times over.

While Chris Cornell and company had been active for a decade, they had slowly built momentum and gained a lot of recognition as a part of the famous Lallpalooza festival started by Jane’s Addiction and by the time they released “Badmotorfinger” they had quite the substantial following, however nothing would prepare them for the success of SUPERUNKNOWN which joins the ranks of Nirvana’s “Nevermind” and Alice In Chains’ “Dirt” as one of the most successful grunge albums of the 90s. However, despite the similarities that SOUNDGARDEN shared with other grunge artists of the era, they were quite a bit different in many ways and were what i deem to be the musician’s grunge band for they had a diversity and sophistication that absolutely no other could match. SUPERUNKNOWN is where all their stars aligned and displays their sound at its pinnacle and as far as i’m concerned the ONLY album of theirs that is perfect from beginning to end without a shred of filler which all their other albums unfortunately suffered from.

The 90s was somewhat polarizing as 80s metal lovers resented the onslaught of the filthy grunge acts slaying their icons into the uncool bin but SOUNDGARDEN was much smarter than the average bear and was one of the few grunge acts who successfully won over both crowds by keeping their core metal values developed in the 80s in tact and fluffing them up with the newest grunge technology. Once again, a testament to their decade run ahead of pack developing their alternative sound and taking the Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath elements to a new level. SOUNDGARDEN gained a huge following solely by the sophistication of the compositions which when compared to the likes of their contemporaries were on an entire different playing field. While sonically disguised as punk laden pop rock songs with one catchy hook after another, the tracks differed significantly from each other and much of this was taken right out of the Beatles playbook by employing alternative tunings for most of the tracks and even adding progressive touches with unthinkable time signatures like 15/8 (“Limo Wreck”), 5/4 (“My Wave”), 7/4 (parts of “Spoonman”) and the touched by God track “Black Hole Sun” which alternated between 4/4 and 9/8, a song so utterly brilliant that i still get shivers when i listen to its perfection (not to mention that cooler than fuck video!) Not to mention other influences like the Middle Eastern vibes on “Half.”

While lyrically the album deals with everything dark and depressive under the moon as it tackles drug abuse, suicide, death and alienation and perhaps could be deemed a lighter fluffier version of the death, black and doom metal emerging at the same time, it never feels like a jump-off-the-cliff-after-slashing-your-wrists-with-a-razor-blad type of album as the musical hooks are just so feel good and the band’s instrumental and experimental formula gels so cohesively, not to mention Chris Cornell’s smooth-tongued vocals suavely polishing every distorted grungy riff they soar around. This is simply one of those albums that i played to death at one time and then like many others, my tastes broadened, my musical tentacles expanded and sampled and digested a gazillion other styles of music but as i revisit this monumental musical experience in my life again in memorial of one of the great vocalists who passed on far too soon, i am once again awestruck with SUPERUNKNOWN and experiencing it like i did for the first time. Not too many times you get to lose your virginity twice in life! Masterpiece of the ages!
Stephen
I still remember clearly I bought this tape when it came out in 1994 because of the track “Black Hole Sun" and grunge wave had reached its top before a new and fresh alternative rock began swelling in. "Superunknown" apparently is the band's breakthrough album, spawning five singles, and certified five platinums in the US, but behind their commercial success and after all these years, I never been able to digest their music nicely. Perhaps because their musical style isn't really my type of interest, but on the other hand, probably the majority of the songs here are plain dull and this album was overly exaggerated by MTV and label.

From my subjective point of views, there are several of really great songs here. I'll start with the single "My Wave", I found an interesting groovy arrangement inside. The next one, is the other single, "Black Hole Sun", which is very nostalgic and introduced Cornell's clear voice, a radio friendly track and a lovable piece, even to non-rock listeners. The third one is the uptempo punchy track, "Kickstand", but a shame that this is only a 1.3 minutes track. The other listenable tracks are "Let Me Drown", "Fell On Black Days", the title track, and "The Day I Tried To Live", but the rest are pointless, terribly average, and some of them are even worst. Tracks like "Spoonman", "Limo Wreck", or "Half" are good examples of utilizing the player's skip button.

The nuance on this album is dark and depressive, accompanied by doom-laden arrangement, slow and dynamic tempo, and alternative tunings which is typical in grunge-style music. To me, "Superunknown" isn't a horrible album, but ain't great either. There are just too many fillers and decent tracks. I buy this disc just for the sake of couple of great tracks I mentioned above, and to bring a good memory of how hard I save my pennies for days just to buy the tape, more than 15 years ago.
UMUR
"Superunknown" is the 4th full-length studio album by American hard rock/ metal act Soundgarden. The album was released in March 1994 through A&M Records. While the band enjoyed great succes with their last album "Badmoterfinger (1991)", "Superunknown" was the band´s international breakthrough and biggest commercial success, selling enough albums to be certified 5 times platinum in the US alone.

The music on "Superunknown" is hard rock/ heavy rock with influences from psychadelic/ alternative rock, eastern ethnic influences and some heavy metal elements too. There are not much on "Superunknown" that can be labelled metal though. What makes this album so strong and what was probably the main reason for it´s great success is the strong and memorable melodies. While Soundgarden certainly lifted the pedal a bit compared to the more energetic sounding "Badmoterfinger", those unforgetable melodies just makes all the difference. Songs like "Let Me Drown", "Fell on Black Days", "Spoon man", "The Day I Tried to Live", "Limo Wreck" (I love that track), "4th of July" and of course the excellent "Black Hole Sun" will forever stick in my head, but actually there are no sub par tracks on the album. Some stick out more than others, but even the more mellow psychadelic tracks (which at first can seem a bit dull) fit the overall musical concept of the album very well.

The band are very well playing, and the songs feature many strong riffs and ideas, but the songwriting is always in focus, which means that Chris Cornell´s strong and distinct vocals are perfectly placed in the spotlight where they belong. He has changed his vocal style a bit since "Badmoterfinger" and his vocal performance on "Superunknown" is much more mature and varied. At times I do miss the fierce energy that characterized his performance on "Badmoterfinger", but I greatly enjoy the more varied vocal style on "Superunknown" too.

The production is warm and professional. It suits the music perfectly.

"Superunknown" is one of those albums meant/destined to be a classic. The album reeks of class and with the more easy to digest and commercial/memorable songs it´s no wonder that this album also attracted a mainstream audience. Of course it didn´t hurt that the album was backed up with several succesful promotional videos that received heavy rotation on MTV. A 4 star rating is fully deserved.
AtomicCrimsonRush
Soundgarden’s best album begins with the killer riffing that makes this album a sensational master work. 'Let me Drown' is pure riffing and melodic vocals, a trademark of the band on this classic masterpeice. I first heard Soundgarden with ‘Spoon man’ and I was hooked into grabbing their album as I was fascinated by the polyrhythmic off kilter beats and very strong vocal work of the tracks.There are so many highlights here is it is difficult to discern one from another. ‘My Wave’ with it’s hypnotic riff in 5/4 time sig is a prime example. The quiet melodic beauty of “Fell on Black Days” played in 6/4. The melodies mixed with huge blistering guitar riffs is reminiscent of the type of work Live were producing at the time.

“Superunknown” was huge in 1994, capturing interest from all levels of music fans and it was a commercial success, a breakthrough album, that debuted on the Billboard 200 at number one. The band could not have dreamed of such success after three fairly unknown albums. There were five successful singles lifted from the album; "The Day I Tried to Live", "My Wave", "Fell on Black Days", "Spoonman" and "Black Hole Sun". The album was certified five times platinum by the US RIAA and was a progressive heavy rock blockbuster.

The riffs by Kim Thayil are amazing such as ‘Mailman’, and “I’m riding you all the way” the catch phrase on this is hypnotic and there are mellotron pads underlayed beneath. The guitars definitely hook you in with a transfixing hypnotic power.

'Superunknown’ for instance has a very strong riff structure. The lyrics are terrific on this with very forceful performance by Cormell; “If this isn't what you see, It doesn't make you blind, If this doesn't make you feel, It doesn't mean you've died, Where the river's high, Where the river's high...” It was a commercially accessible direction for the band but remains definitively heavy and progressive.

‘Head Down’ is outstanding and very progressive with a trance rhythm and melody. It is a darker track for the band but a nice transgression away from sheer heavy riffing.

‘Black Hole Sun’ is played in a 4/4 time sig with a 9/8 bridge section. It is replete with mystical Middle Eastern flourishes and has a dark atmosphere and a vibrant film clip to promote it. The clip is disturbing with crazy smiling misfits being washed by an acid rain downpour, complete with discoloration of vivid washes of green, yellow and blue. The quiet song was a massive hit for the band peaking at number 1 on US mainstream charts, and a worldwide smash.

The ambience does not last long though as the next track smashes headlong with riffs to die for. The almighty ‘Spoonman’ has one of the most amazing riffs that crashes along with an odd time signature that alternate between 7/4 and 4/4, and indelible lyrics; “Feel the rhythm with your hands, Steal the rhythm while you can, spoonman, Speak the rhythm on your own, Speak the rhythm all alone, spoonman.” It may be about the rhythmic banging of a spoon player, or it could be about the speed drug being mixed with heat and on a spoon. No matter what this is a brilliant hard rocking track, and was another chart success reaching number 3 in US, and making an impact worldwide. The chorus has a fabulous riff and blistering vocals of Cornell; “Spoonman, come together with your hands, Save me, I'm together with your plan, Save me...” One of the best heavy prog tracks of all time.

‘The Day I Tried to Live’ has a brilliant riff from Thayil and very powerful bass from Ben Shephard, the loud chorus builds to a crescendo and then keeps building to the melodic post chorus section. I love this track especially the inspired guitar work.

‘FreshTendrils’ is another very melodic riff heavy track with reflective lyrics; “long time coming, It seemed to take me through, Long time coming Many served the few, And long to taste the shame, That bows down before you.” There are odd time signature changes on this too placing it in a progressive genre for my ears.

The ultra doomy guitar on ‘4th of July’ is aggressive and dark. It crunches along effortlessly in a crawl metal style. The lead break is noisy off kilter screech riffing.

‘Half’ is another Eastern influenced song with psychedelic tendencies, the type of Beatle-esque mumbo jumbo of the late 60s Indian bandwagon. The use of Scitar is surprising and makes this an oddity of the album.

'Like Suicide’ is a strange one and the lyrics were inspired when a bird hit Cornell’s window severely injuring it and so he smashed it with a rock, ending it’s life and it’s pain; “Heard it from another room, Eyes were waking up just to fall asleep, Love's like suicide, Dazed out in a garden bed, With a broken neck lays my broken gift, Just like suicide, And my last ditch Was my last brick, Lent to finish her, Finish her”.

The album is a masterpiece of groundbreaking metal sounds and commercial excess, wildly experimental, playing with a myriad of time signatures and tinged with bitter sadness and aggression, the album is all killer, no filler, and the quintessential pinnacle for Soundgarden; once heard never forgotten.

Members reviews

NorseGangsta
Superunknown, while overall not Soundgarden's heaviest work, was easily the best album that the Seattle legends put out. With an eclectic mix of alternative metal and alternative rock with some experimental tracks (all with progressive elements), this is the most diverse album in the band's catalogue.

What made Superunkown, and Soundgarden in general, stand out among the other Seattle grunge bands was their obvious playing ability and musical talent. Chris Cornell's extremely large vocal range is utilized all though the album, most notably on the songs "Limo Wreck" and "The Day I Tried To Live." Cornell's lyrics deal with themes ranging from depression to drug abuse, typical of grunge bands at the Kim Thayil's heavy riffing provides the heaviest segments of the album on songs such as "Spoonman" and "4th of July." Thayil also uses unique effects and powerful melodies throughout the album, adding to Cornell's lyrics about the mysterious and unknown. He also contributes several unique and notable solos on the songs "Black Hole Sun", "Spoonman", and "Like Suicide". Matt Cameron's drumming, although not in the caliber of songs like "Jesus Christ Pose" from Badmotorfinger, is still impressive, keeping a driving beat while including technical fills. Ben Shepard's bass lines are often a mix of both the guitars and drums, complementing on or both of the instruments.

Superunknown is chock full of amazing songs and includes many classics, with little or no filler. While the songs "Head Down" and "Half" may appear to be odd filler songs that did not need to be on the album, they provide a feel for what limits the band was willing to experiment to at the time. Soundgarden shows their progressive tendencies all throughout the album, with many songs in alternate time signatures and tunings, with unconventional song structures. Superunknown is a classic mix of some of the best songs that Soundgarden ever recorded, and is a perfect candidate for the greatest grunge album ever.

Recommended Songs: My Wave, Fell On Black Days, Superunknown, Black Hole Sun, Spoonman, Limo Wreck, Like Suicide,

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