Listening to Audioslave recently made me miss when Chris Cornell's voice was a touchstone in the grunge movement, an instrument as powerful as Kim Thayil's sludgy guitars. So out went Out of Exile and in came A-Sides, Soundgarden's only hits collection and a fine slice of hard rock.
First, the title: Soundgarden didn't release singles, so they had no A sides. This is simply a best-of collection, and you can't argue with what's here. More than other alternative/hard rock bands of the time, Soundgarden had true musical prowess and the ability to build musical tension, keeping you rooted to the song. They could be piledriving, they could be reflective, they were heavy and they were damn catchy. The band is required listening, and this is the perfect place to start.
The first few songs are sludgy grunge that require mud boots, but Kim Thayil's guitar work rises from the murk to add muscle to "Nothing To Say" and the hypnotic "Loud Love." The eerie "Hands All Over" is another great early track; all are powerful showcases for Chris Cornell's voice, which has few equals in rock history. Cobain was the spirit, Vedder was the soul, but Cornell was the voice.
The galloping "Rusty Cage" and muscular "Outshined" refined the sound of the band in 1991, giving them mainstream exposure, which paid off with 1994's Superunknown. "Spoonman" is still a fine song and "The Day I Tried to Live" is worth the time it takes to get there; even "Black Hole Sun" still sounds good after all the overplay and the Grammy. Latter-day song "Pretty Noose" is excellent, although "Ty Cobb" and "Blow Up the Outside World" show signs of strain. The band broke up soon after.
A perfect introduction to a necessary band, A-Sides contains hard, smart rock and roll that belongs in your collection.