Soundgarden “Telephantasm”


(28 Sept 2010, A&M/Interscope)

Somewhere near the top of the list of jobs I’d never want is to be the guy who has to spend the next few weeks combing over Chris Cornell’s body of work to compile a hits album that is set to be released in ten… nine… eight…

I shouldn’t say that. It probably won’t be that bad. I’m sure there’s a team of people crunching numbers, scanning YouTube and Spotify stats and flipping coins deciding what will go on and what will be left on the cutting room floor.

Telephantasm is as close to a perfect Soundgarden retrospective album as you’re going to get for the price and length. 2 CDs/1DVD makes for a great overview of the band’s career and helps point to albums one may wish to explore further. Plus it’s not so long that it’s a chore to listen to and attention starts to wander.

“All Your Lies” does not start things off well. All tracks are in chronological order and this comes from a 1986 compilation featuring other popular bands from Seattle. I’m not sure if it’s poor production that turns me off from this track or a horrible guitar effect. Either way, I’d much rather skip to…

“Hunted Down” which is the first track featuring the Soundgarden we all know and love. Those screeching vocals and crazy guitar lines are all there. But before we can build momentum and get on a roll we have…

“Fopp” is a cover of an Ohio Players song. I’m not a fan. Funk is not something I find myself getting very heavily into and Soundgarden do not do it well.

“Beyond the Wheel” is just so-so. I can’t really feel strongly about it one way or the other. It’s definitely heavy and unique but has too slow a pace to really rock too hard.

“Flower” is the first song on this compilation I love. It has an odd main riff that worms it’s way into my head and is unique enough that I still haven’t gotten sick of it. This is the beginning of Soundgarden becoming a powerhouse.

“Hands All Over” picks up where “Flower” stops. It’s similar, but this is more of a good-time party rocker.

“Big Dumb Sex” has a title that fully explains itself. It’s big. It’s dumb. And the word fuck is used many, many times.

“Get on the Snake” is a good, groovy rocker, but it’s not quite great.

“Room a Thousand Years Wide” is the beginning of mega-stardom Soundgarden. This is one of the lesser known tracks from Badmotorfinger, but I’m not sure why. I enjoy this track a lot better than…

“Rusty Cage” isn’t a bad song. I always think of a motorcycle racing game for Sega that it was used in. Did any of you ever play Road Rash? It was pretty fun.

“Outshined” is the perhaps the biggest track from Badmotorfinger. The strange thing about it is how much it’s just a grunge version of the hair metal Soundgarden replaced. It’s just much sludgier.

“Slaves and Bulldozers” is another great deep cut. Why a track like this isn’t heard on the radio every hour is beyond me, but that’s probably why I can’t find a job as a station manager.

Disc Two starts off with a stellar live version of “Jesus Christ Pose.” This song has a ton of urgency, power, and speed on its album version, but the live version kicks all those elements into high gear. If you never hear another Soundgarden track, this is the one to hear.

“Birth Ritual” comes from the Singles Motion Picture Soundtrack. It’s another so-so song. It sounds like a stock track that they had lying around so they threw it on there.

The next five songs are taken right from Superunknown and are mostly the same tracks that appear on the album. The only alternate take is “Fell On Black Days” which is the video version. I think I enjoy this version better than the album version, but it isn’t extremely different. The only difference comes from Kim Thayil’s guitar lines. The rest has a nice laid-back, live-in-the-studio vibe.

Then there are four tracks from Down on the Upside. This time there are two alternate tracks. I remember when they performed “Pretty Noose” on Saturday Night Live. It’s a good version, but not stellar. “Blow Up The Outside World” is taken from an MTV Live ‘N’ Loud performance. It’s nice to have different versions instead of the same thing I can get on the other albums in my collection, but these tracks aren’t must hear like “Jesus Christ Pose.”

The album ends with “Black Rain,” an outtake from the Badmotorfinger sessions. Not a bad track, but I can see why it was left out.

 

All that’s missing from this collection is “Loud Love” and “The Day I Tried To Live.” The latter makes an appearance on the DVD, but it would be nice to hear while I’m listening to this cruising down the highway. If they were to add those tunes and a few more alternate/live takes I would call this collection perfect. As it is, I’ll have to give it 3.5/5 stars.

I just wonder how many discs the Cornell tribute will be. Telephantasm provides a great groundwork for the Soundgarden stuff, but there’s nothing from Temple of the Dog, Audioslave or any of his solo work. It’s going to have to be a box set, with (hopefully) a truncated version for us cheapos.

I just hope it does justice to a stellar career.

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