Thursday, 8 October 2015

Soundgarden - Superunknown (1994)

I'm not quite sure why but I didn't really get this one until I moved to America. Black Hole Sun always sounded astonishing, and is surely one of the greatest singles ever recorded, but initial impressions of the rest comprised mainly guitar solos and a long-haired man in silver trousers stood screaming yeaaaaaaah baby from the top of a speaker cabinet the size of Ted Nugent's rock 'n' roll shack out yonder. It may as well have been Guns 'n' Roses - and please note the correct punctuation of their name whilst we're here.

Then I moved to Texas, gave Superunknown another couple of spins and it all began to make sense. It's not so much that they were ever just another generic band of dudes rocking out in black leather, but that their strengths are subtle, elements you may not notice immediately, or at least I didn't. Black Hole Sun, for example, you could describe as a really bad acid trip given that it's the sort of description which tends to emerge from the Kafkaesque process of writing about music, but actually it's not really like that at all. It might be better to describe Black Hole Sun as an acid trip going somewhere you would rather it didn't go - if we can momentarily ignore the room-dwelling elephant of such descriptions being essentially ludicrous. What I mean to say is that Black Hole Sun, like much of this album, conveys a range of quite subtle emotions. It's nothing extreme in the sense of Killing Joke or whoever.

The more I listen to this, the more it occurs to me that Soundgarden are, or at least were, pretty much a psychedelic band in the vague tradition of Cream and related Woodstocky types. They make with that characteristic seasick psychedelic notation, the slight sense of disorientation and invocation of coming up on some substance or other whilst melting in a chair staring at your foot. There's an element of early Black Sabbath even, maybe without quite such a bad vibe, although still bordering on dark, like it could all plummet into brown acid hell at any moment; and it works because they eschew the more twee excesses of psychedelia, the boss-eyed claims of having just seen a pixie in the garden despite everyone knowing full well that you're talking out of your arse - or bollocks about third eyes having been opened for that matter. Superunknown is, I suppose, biker psychedelia, more pragmatic, more grizzled, and more inclined to shut up when it has nothing it wants to say, allowing the music to speak for itself; and the music is fucking beautiful, near symphonic in its detail and lightness of touch once you've heard past the walls of overdrive and fuzz.

This has possibly been my purplest ever testimony to a record, but fuck it - Superunknown is worth it.

No comments:

Post a Comment