A & M Records, 1991

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


While most everyone in my high school was counting the days to the release of Metallica's "black" album in 1991, I counted the weeks until the release of Badmotorfinger. Getting exposed to Soundgarden in 1989 after reading a rave for Louder Than Love from Circus gave me a nasty possessive streak for Soundgarden.

For music geeks, getting exposed to a band (by deliberate action from friends or just blind luck) before MTV or mainstream radio means partial ownership of a band. You were there on the ground floor. Any fans who caught on to that band afterward were considered bandwagon jumpers unworthy of the level of fan dedication that you have.

That superiority streak can also affect the way these fans judge albums that may break their favorite band into the mainstream. After all, how many times have you heard the following phrases uttered from record store clerks or music snobs:

-- "Anything R.E.M.'s released after Document has totally sucked."
-- "U2 started sucking after my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Joshua Tree."
-- "Dude, Metallica has sucked since the Black Album."
-- "Yeah, but that's coming from fans who've only gotten into them since The Soft Bulletin was released." (OK, this one's pretty rare unless your life revolves around music and/or the Flaming Lips.)

I have to admit that I held such a bias toward Badmotorfinger. The album was part of the Seattle trifecta in 1991, which included Nevermind and Ten. If Nirvana raised everyone's eyebrows and Pearl Jam made Seattle's sound more accessible for the masses, Soundgarden benefited from the geographic association as well as their sound, which was a more traditional heavy metal sound. Unfortunately, the first few listens of Badmotorfinger had me thinking "sellout." The fact that MTV was putting "Outshined" in heavy rotation only justified my belief.

It was only a few years after mainstream music totally shunned alternative music or college rock that I warmed up to Badmotorfinger. It also didn't hurt that Superunknown was waaaaay more mainstream than Badmotorfinger was. A lesson well learned: Just because an album is popular, doesn't mean it sucks. "Outshined" may have been a prototypical "grunge" song, but the rest of Badmotorfinger was a jungle of sound that included horns, a twisted take on a Speak and Spell toy and some impressive bass lines courtesy of Ben Shepard.

It's hard to classify Badmotorfinger as a "grunge" album when its overall sound is heavy metal. Kim Thayil creates some of the most memorable air-guitar moments in the early-'90s with "Jesus Christ Pose," "Face Pollution" and "Rusty Cage." Match that with the vocals of Chris Cornell, who had probably the ultimate heavy metal pipes of the early 90s, and you've got a heavy metal superpower. If grunge was about scaling back, then Soundgarden hardly qualified for that label, with ambitious tracks like "Searching With My Good Eye Closed" and Mind Riot."

If Soundgarden was too metal for grunge, they were definitely too experimental for typical heavy metal. Their lyrics were also well above spandex fray, with heady subjects like religious manipulation ("Jesus Christ Pose," "Holy Water") or … something else ("Drawing Flies"). In the end, Badmotorfinger took years to fully digest what it was (an ass-kicking album) as well as what it wasn't (a grunge template). Unlike Nevermind or, to a lesser extent, Ten, Badmotorfinger was an album most bands wisely avoided trying to recreate.

Rating: A-

User Rating: B+



© 2006 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of A & M Records, and is used for informational purposes only.