Down On The Upside


A & M Records, 1996

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Back when "grunge" wasn't a four-letter word, the Seattle quartet Soundgarden was one of the most unique bands in the genre. While their guitars crunched as much as many of their musical brothers, they were not afraid to utilize bizarre time signatures in their music. While this may have made it difficult for fans to follow some of their music, Soundgarden became one of the best grunge bands on the scene.

Their last album, Superunknown, kept the bizarre time signatures, but also signaled a stylistic change for the band. Lead singer Chris Cornell now played as much guitar as he sang, and the songs were much more radio-friendly, evidenced by the popularity of "My Wave," "Fell On Black Days" and "Black Hole Sun." For older fans, this shift was a disappointment, despite the album's being a commercial success.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

On their fifth full-length outing (and final release as a band), Down On The Upside, Cornell and crew begin to mix a little grunge back into the mix while they settle comfortably into the sound they created last album.

The first single, "Pretty Noose," is as much grunge as rhythm, and displays the band's talents well. Bassist Ben Shepherd's work is noteworthy here, as he adds some tasty fills in between the rhythm guitar work of Cornell and lead guitarist Kim Thayil. While not the best song on the album, "Pretty Noose" is a good start.

The guitar work shines on another single, "Burden In My Hand." The song, now very overplayed, starts off with acoustic guitar (very dobro-sounding) and Cornell's vocals; soon, bass is layered in, and the rest of the band joins in. The song sounds a lot like vintage Led Zeppelin, but doesn't sound like a poor clone. This is Soundgarden near the peak of their performance.

While other cuts like "Zero Chance", "Never The Machine Forever" and "An Unkind" shine, the best song on the album is yet another single, "Blow Up The Outside World." Soundgarden finally sounds like they're comfortable with the technology a studio can provide, and they make it work for them on the cut. Matt Cameron's drums, normally not an instrument highlighted by the band, shine here for his subtlety on the kit.

One word of caution: after listening to the song "Ty Cobb," you may wonder why Down On The Upside didn't get the "Parental Warning" sticker. (For the record, I'm against stickering albums and censorship in general. The whole system we have in America for rating albums is flawed beyond repair, and should be dropped as a failure. Tipper Gore, mind your own business.)

While Soundgarden have yet to achieve the heights they reached with their best album Louder Than Love, Down On The Upside is a major improvement over their last studio effort, and almost ranks as their best album.

Rating: A-

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© 1997 Christopher Thelen 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.