Autobiographical Order No. 608: Soundgarden – Badmotorfinger

I’m a millennial, not a gen-Xer, though the cutoff is somewhere around the year I was born, so there’s an argument that I could be either I suppose (I’m not a Xennial, don’t call me that, please). And yet, I’m an evangelist for one of the greatest things that Generation X ever gave us: Grunge. Not all of it necessarily—I absolutely will not ride for post-grunge (and if we’re being serious here, Creed is maybe the worst band of all time, just like offensively horribly bad; they deserve all the slander that Nickelback gets—though they’re not particularly great either). And some of the also-rans during the ’90s weren’t necessarily great (Candlebox, for instance, or Bush, though I admire their commitment to following in Nirvana’s footsteps by also recording an album with Steve Albini, which was interesting I suppose, if not necessarily good). I do, however, like the first, oh, three Foo Fighters albums. What.

Yet the two best grunge bands of all time are, indisputably, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. Yeah, Nirvana’s great (In Utero is a more interesting album than Nevermind in my opinion), but these two bands introduced me to a world of heavy music that I hadn’t experienced before and might not have even known where to look. I’ll get to Alice In Chains later in the series (there was a moment during the pandemic—you know, the one that’s still going—where I just sort of decided “I’m going to buy Dirt on vinyl right nowwwww!!!!” because I get a dopamine rush every time I buy records and we all need something to keep us from going crazy). But Soundgarden was a pivotal, game changing band for me.

I had heard Superunknown first, since that was the big album of theirs at the time—”Black Hole Sun” being the sort of weird psychedelic song of the summer of 1994, what with its uncomfortable video. And that album sort of blew my mind. The singles were pretty cool, but the deep cuts revealed a band with more depth and a whole lot of heaviness. Which in turn led me to Badmotorfinger. And that was an even bigger eye opener, seeing as how, well, it’s basically a metal album.

Back in the early ’90s, when grunge was still a new and shiny thing, it could have easily gone either way on MTV: 120 Minutes or Headbangers Ball. And for a while it did; readers over the age of 30 will probably remember seeing, at some point, a stoned AF Kurt Cobain wearing a ballgown on Nirvana’s appearance on the latter. But Soundgarden legitimately employed more of a heavy metal aesthetic in their music, and not just because of Chris Cornell’s long, flowing locks. (And his vocals, which I once described to a few friends in college as “the best rock ‘n’ roll wail,” which they were sort of taken aback by, but we said hyperbolic stuff all the time.) Kim Thayil’s riffs are harsh and intense—the riff on “Jesus Christ Pose” isn’t thrash or death metal or anything that can so easily be categorized, but it’s ferocious, truly one of the greatest guitar moments of the past 30 years. The same goes for “Slaves and Bulldozers”, and for that matter, the two major singles from the album, “Rusty Cage” and “Outshined” are about as heavy as radio rock got at the time. These songs rip. It’s no mystery how I ended up being a convert to metal with material like this, and as often as I find great new metal, I still return to Badmotorfinger all the time, simply because the songs hold up so well after all this time. No, the lyrics don’t always make sense, but I still think “I’m looking California but feeling Minnesota” is a pretty good line.

I bought this the same year that Chris Cornell died, though not because of that. In the midst of a metal buying binge, I realized I needed to go back and buy some of the records that made me love metal in the first place, and this was one of them—plus that hologram cover is pretty baller (and the etching on side four is pretty elaborate). But while his death didn’t hit me in quite the same way that Bowie or Elliott Smith’s did, I still felt a deep sadness about it, if only because Cornell seemed like the exception (other than Eddie Vedder) of the big grunge frontmen to outlive whatever demons might have been following him. I always saw Soundgarden as being somewhat hopeful despite the darkness, I suppose. I’m thankful I did get to see Soundgarden once, though, touring with Nine Inch Nails on what ended up being sort of a disastrous show where the promoters tried to kick out my wife, who was taking photos, but the show was still fun. Just make sure to buy an extra ticket when you’re being comped by a big promoter; there’s always a catch.

Rating: 9.3

Sound Quality: Great

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