The Grass is Always Greener Where the Dogs are Shitting, Folks.
Yo, this be Reuben. Damn, it’s been a while since I’ve written that. I guess life and not to mention a certain degree of laziness has meant I haven’t found the time to write anything on here for a while. And oh deary me, please excuse my language at the top — I blame Chris Cornell’s lyrics. But hey, I’m back, and hopefully I’ll be writing a lot more stuff. I thought I’d get back into the whole thang by giving y’all a good ol’ music review, no-less of probably my favourite band at the moment, the legendary Soundgarden.
The grunge titans didn’t have an easy ride to success, as compared to compatriots like Nirvana and Pearl Jam they’d been in the game for a long while and had already released two full length albums and a couple of EP’s by the time Pearl Jam had released Ten. As the band grinded through the 80’s with maximum effort, playing in small, sweaty venues throughout Seattle and whatnot, they never could escape the underground and struggled to get noticed in the wider rock and metal scene. But, then came a fantastic new bassist and songwriter in Ben Shephard, who seemingly inspired the band to new levels of musical quality and, seemingly as a result, much greater success and recognition, with his involvement in the band’s breakthrough album and since looked back on as a classic record and one of the most important of its time, Badmotorfinger.
With this record, for the first time in their career, everything just seemed to fall into place for Soundgarden, and Chris Cornell’s incredible voice could be projected to the huge audiences he deserved to be in front of for years prior. Although Badmotorfinger wasn’t quite the masterpiece that its successor, Superunknown is (in my eyes), it’s still an absolutely brilliant record and it’s no coincidence that it was this that gave the band their success.
For one, Chris Cornell’s vocal output, as mentioned before, is incredible. His voice is unhinged, howling and gritty, with amazing power and range, as some of his best performances were on songs in this album, with Outshined, Jesus Christ Pose and Rusty Cage in particular shining as some of his very best in an insanely good back catalog of songs. His voice never ceases to impress me, but back in 1991 when this badboi came out, he had about the most energy he ever had and his voice particularly sprung out and had incredible clout and volume. His lyrics, too, are brilliant throughout the album, with the memorable lyrics in Outshined sticking out, along with the thought-provoking lines of Mind Riot, and the controversial and interesting lyrics of Jesus Christ Pose and Holy Water.
Of course, Chris Cornell wasn’t the only guy who had a hand in this record. The musicianship of Kim Thayil, Ben Shephard and Matt Cameron is so damn good that it can create some of the chunkiest of riff heaven, the sludgiest doom-fests, and the coolest psychedelic nonsense that you will ever hear, as the band put together influences of Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and The Beatles (along with, of course, their own unique edge), in a festival of metal-soaked, berserk and yet thoughtful awesomeness.
In amongst the rubble is Kim Thayil’s guitarwork, with his performances on this record, although not quite so impressive as his work on Superunknown and Down on the Upside, is a potent mix of eclectic chord progressions, noodling and solid gold riffage. It’s particularly interesting on Jesus Christ Pose, as with it’s train-like chugging sound and high pitch screams, so unique and just flippin’ good on Rusty Cage, particularly pungent (…if you can smell a sound) and memorable in Mind Riot (mate, goosebumps every single time), and brilliantly hedonistic and dirty in A Room a Thousand Years Wide.
Lest we forget, the vital components that are the drums and bass are so solid it actually makes me imagine a concrete brick. But at the same time, both are oddly arranged and almost as eclectic as Kim Thayil’s guitar. Although I think Matt Cameron’s best drums were to come with his later work with Soundgarden, he doesn’t do anything wrong in this album and he has enough energy and skill to punch through a wall with his percussion. With Ben Shephard’s basswork, it’s certainly the most chunky and heavy stuff he’s played, with a great groove and a whole lotta skill and sweet, sweet riffage. But what makes his work so great on this record (and with all his stuff in general), it’s not just riffs or whatever, as he uses the bass to either accompany the main sound, lead it, or carry it along, each with ease, as he goes on tangents all on his own and riffs to oblivion with the same ability.
Now, with the album as a whole, I wasn’t always so big on it. On first impressions, I can see that it can seem a lot worse than Superunknown as it’s not quite got the same precision or masterful edge, along with some production issues taking hold of it a bit. There are some moments that although enjoyable and possessing a lot of musical skill, can sound like a bit of a mad mesh, like in Face Pollution and Slaves & Bulldozers. And songs like the aforementioned Slaves & Bulldozers and New Damage, although great and interesting, do require patience and a certain mood, as otherwise they can just be a bit depressing or boring, if you aren’t careful.
Moreover, the mix is definitely below average. Although it can be forgiven a tad as it’s from the heady days of 1991, there were a lot of albums out there at the time that sounded better than this; and, given the big budget of Badmotorfinger, you’d think it might have a better mix. It’s something that’s easy to get over, but it’s just a little frustrating, because the album’s volume is too quiet for such a heavy album, and the mid-range seems far too high in the mix, as at the same time as being over quiet, it’s also over loud in a way. It’s a shame, because it means the album’s true heaviness was never quite utilized, and the all the little intricacies of it’s music aren’t shown off like they could have been.
However, it doesn’t really matter too much, as the quality of the music and songwriting much more than makes up for it, and, to be honest, maybe it wouldn’t have sounded quite so unique and grungey without this dirty mix, as although it’s not exactly a good mix by any stretch of the word, it does give it a gritty edge, albeit most-likely unintentional. And it never sounds unpleasant, so it’s fine.
Despite a few mistakes in the mixing and a couple of less inspiring moments, the overall brilliance of the music in Badmotorfinger never fails to amaze me. Along with sounding like a behemoth with its tree trunk of a metal foundation and Cornell’s powerful voice, it has the ability to confuse and confound with its intricate and, by usual standards in rock and metal, strange instrumentals, which open the door to psychedelia in large doses. It mixes monstrous riffs, fast-paced, punky sections, mystical and winding trips into your dreams, and not to mention some damn catchy hooks and verses, in a way I don’t think has been matched since.
I mean, in one moment you have the energetic, rocking party that is Drawing Flies, and in another you’re placed in one of the most awesome psychedelic journeys you’ll hear in Searching With My Good Eye Closed. And then you’ve got the immense goosebump-provoker that is the emotional and thoughtful Mind Riot, and the best sludge metal between Black Sabbath and Mastodon in Holy Water.
In conclusion, Badmotorfinger isn’t heralded as the classic it is for no reason. It’s metal, it’s grunge, it’s punk, it’s psychedelia: all in one. Chris Cornell was on absolute top form and was a bundle of energy and charisma, as his incredible vocals sonically lift the album to the sort of levels very few albums reach. The musicianship, too, is nigh-on masterful, if slightly unpolished, with Kim Thayil’s guitarwork in particular shining through. This is an album that can be sung along to, moshed to, out-cooled by, taken on a trip by, and blown away by.
I mean, it’s not perfect. It’s a pretty rough around the edges. It’s got a pretty poor mix (although confusingly), a few moments don’t quite sit with me, and I can see how some people wouldn’t love it so much, as it struggled to grab me by first impressions. But, be patient with it, and you’ll probably find as I have, that it’s one of the best albums of the 90’s.
BEST TRACKS: Outshined, Searching With My Good Eye Closed, Mind Riot, Somewhere, Rusty Cage
WORST TRACKS: Face Pollution, New Damage
Bringing redundant opinions for scrollers everywhere,
7 thoughts on “Soundgarden – Badmotorfinger (1991) Review”
Everybody raves about Superunknown, and for great reason. But this is the one to which I return more often. Fantastic write up!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks man! Personally as an album I both think Superunknown is better and I prefer it, but nowadays I actually listen to Badmotorfinger more.
I actually really love the apocalyptic tone of new damage. Superunknown is my favorite though. Not neccisarily because this one is bad, just because Superunknown is insanely good. Kim Thaylil’s sludge chords are amazing.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Don’t get me wrong, I still think New Damage is a great song, it just doesn’t grab me like the others on the album. And, same, I prefer Superunknown, but still I absolutely love this album. And indeed, Kim Thayil’s guitar is awesome throughout. Thanks for the comment!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Great read! Enjoyed it thoroughly.
Here’s my latest blog post about the new wave and highly influential modern hip hop scene. It’s a great read and a landmark for my music blog. Do check it out here.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks man! And I’m sure I’ll check out ye post when I have the time, though Milo would be more interested.