Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Soundgarden

  • Louder Than Love [A&M, 1989] C+
  • Badmotorfinger [A&M, 1991] B-
  • Superunknown [A&M, 1994] A-
  • Down on the Upside [A&M, 1996] *
  • A-Sides [A&M, 1997] ***

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Louder Than Love [A&M, 1989]
This AOR reclamation job isn't retro because so many of their culturally deprived boho contemporaries have pretty much the same idea. It isn't Led Zep because they're interested in (good at?) noise, not riffs. Covertly conceptual, arty in spite of itself, and I bet metal fans don't bite. C+

Badmotorfinger [A&M, 1991]
OK, OK, I admit it. This is a credible metal album, and not because it leads with the credible "Rusty Cage." You can tell from the guitar noise, the main if not only point of contact between metal albums and what most of us want from rock and roll. While Chris Cornell howls on about "lookin for the paradigm" and "your Jesus Christ pose" (I swear, that's the good stuff), Kim Thayil finishes off "Slaves and Bulldozers" with an electrical storm and erects so much razor wire around "Jesus Christ Pose" (right, same song) you might almost want to interview him. Then he writes a lyric himself. It seems to hinge on the word "begat." B-

Superunknown [A&M, 1994]
Having mocked this group's conceptual pretensions for years, I'd best point out that Chris Cornell still isn't Robert Plant, Kim Thayill still isn't Jimmy Page, and so forth, before cheerfully acknowledging that 1) they're all closer than they used to be and 2) it no longer matters. This is easily the best--the most galvanizing, kinetic, sensational, catchy--Zep rip in history. And though there may be a philosophical or interpersonal dimension, to me the trick sounds like it was done with songwriting, arrangement, and production. At 70 minutes, it's what used to be called a double album, not quite as long as Physical Graffiti but a lot more consistent. And though their apocalyptic pessimism is almost as content-free as Zep's apocalyptic mystagogy, Zep never reached out like Cornell in "My Wave": "Cry, if you want to cry/If it helps you see/If it clears your eyes/Hate, if you want to hate/If it keeps you safe/If it makes you brave." A-

Down on the Upside [A&M, 1996]
brutal depression simplified ("Ty Cobb," "Applebite") *

A-Sides [A&M, 1997]
hear them earn their miserabilism ("Ty Cobb," "Blow Up the Outside World," "Jesus Christ Pose") ***