I like to say I’m the only person in the world whose life was changed by the song “Black Hole Sun.” I’m not sure if this is entirely true, but it seems likely. After all, there’s not much in the lyrics to change a life. It just happened to come on the tube at the right time.
I was sitting in the living room at some friends’ house. I think we were reading comics, but we could have been doing something else. Maybe their parents weren’t home so we were doing our homework in front of the TV, that’s not important. What is important was that while we were sitting there this came on…
I was blown away. Up until that point I listened to the music of my parents. Well, Mom’s music, Dad didn’t really listen to music. Mom was mostly into the country music of the time. Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Travis Tritt and Dwight Yoakam. The rock I was exposed to was mellow and of the ‘soft’ variety. Michael Bolton, Rod Stewart and Elton John. I was told that rock bands only ever sang about sex, drugs and Satan.
But this wasn’t about sex, drugs or Satan. I had no idea what it was about (does anybody?), but I knew I was in love. I could hear Justin on the chair across the room singing along.
“Who sings this?” his older brother Robbie asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Then shut up.”
I kind of wanted to start singing at that moment because I knew who sang the song. It’s Soundgarden. And that’s something I’ve still not forgotten.
I got my first copy of Superunknown a few years later and it’s been in my collection ever since. A friend dubbed it to a cassette for me. Later on I had it on a burnt CD and once that wore out I downloaded it from a torrent site. I feel bad now that I think about it. This album that has been so important to me and had such an impact on my musical tastes and I’ve never actually purchased it. I’ve paid for Down on the Upside, Fopp/Screaming Life, A-Sides, Badmotorfinger and Telephantasm; but never Superunknown. This is the twentieth anniversary though, maybe we’re in for a nice reissue with some bonus tracks.
I wouldn’t call Superunknown a “perfect” album. There are a few stinkers on there. I’ve never been a huge fan of “Kickstand” or Ben Shepard’s solo piece “Half” (I don’t think the band were huge fans of these songs either, they were toward the end). “4th of July” and “Fresh Tendril” are awesome songs, but they’ve always seemed a little out of place there. They do; however, feature Chris Cornell’s genius practice of singing high and low on the same song. I love hearing him harmonize like that. “Spoonman” is a good song. I don’t know that anyone would disagree, but it’s kind of dumb isn’t it? Yeah, it’s cool that there’s some spoons on a rock song, but really? Do you have to call that track “Spoonman”?
Other than that I love it. Songs like “Let Me Drown” and “Fell On Black Days” are simple three chord rock songs, but the rest of the album is one song of open-tuned strangeness after another. The main riff of “Superunknown” sticks out as a simple single note lick that wraps itself around your brain like an anaconda and doesn’t let go. “Head Down” clings and clanks during the opening then kicks into a smooth ballad. When it come to “My Wave” I just want to say “duh duhn duhn DUH duh duhn duhn DUH.”
I think my favorite has to be “The Day I Tried To Live.” Cornell’s lyrics were one of the the things that drew me to this band and probably led to my interest in the deep poetic musings of other’s like Smashing Pumpkins, Leonard Cohen and Marilyn Manson. but my favorite verse on the album is:
“I woke the same as any other day
Except a voice was in my head
It said seize the day, pull the trigger, drop the blade
And watch the rolling heads”
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Chris Cornell is one of the few guys (along with Edward Norton and David Tenant) that it is perfectly acceptable for a heterosexual man to be attracted to.
While Badmotorfinger was a huge hit and King Animal marked a comeback, Superunknown still sits at the top of Soundgarden’s catalog. So much s that when I saw them at Rock on the Range last year, the bulk of the material they played was from that album. The strange thing is, I didn’t care much for the live rendition of “Black Hole Sun.”