The late summer and early fall of 1991 effectively witnessed the birth of grunge through the release, in just a few weeks, of Nirvana’s “Nevermind”, Pearl Jam’s “Ten” and, on October 8, “Badmotorfinger”. » from Soundgarden. Alice in Chains’ “Facelift” had come before, in 1990.
All of these albums were crucial because, together, they helped usher in a sea change in the music industry. However, Soundgarden, which had been the first to arrive at the table, was formed in 1984. And it would be the last of the so-called “big four” to enjoy its fair desserts. Not enjoying multi-platinum or radio hit singles. Just until 1994’s “Superunknown” because they did it their way. The hard way.
Nirvana led the charge in bringing punk rock and college rock to the masses through “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Alice in Chains made heavy metal palatable to flannel hordes. Pearl Jam did the same thing for classic rock in the eyes of born again “alternative rockers.” But Soundgarden’s music on “Badmotorfinger” tested willing listeners with its sinister, oblique lyrics, down-tuned guitars, unusual time signatures, prickly arrangements, and unrepentant heaviness.
Sure, the band got decent MTV coverage for the album’s more linear, albeit boring, doom riff on “Outshined.” But most of the remaining cuts refused to take it easy on would-be fans and critics. Many of whom weren’t sure what to make of the band.
“I remember Mark [Arm] from Mudhoney was like, ‘Hey, I just heard Badmotorfinger,'” lead guitarist Kim Thayil told Paste in 2013, “I’m all, ‘What do you think?’ [Risas] And he’s like, ‘Fuck, that sounds like Rush!’ »
“At the time, if people didn’t like us, they’d say it was because we were scruffy punk-rock assholes, or because we sounded too much like some kind of metal band. We liked it, it was the same argument [risas], ‘Oh, it’s cool because they’re metal, or it’s cool because they come from this punk scene.’ We still get it.” Metal or punk or something else? Pinning a specific tag to Soundgarden has always been an exercise in futility.
Looking back at what had come before, Soundgarden’s roots in hardcore hadn’t stopped the group from essentially combining Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin (and Black Flag), beginning with their debut EP, 1987’s Screaming Life. Producer Terry Date returned to work on “Badmotorfinger”, which marked the debut of bassist Ben Shepard, who joined the band before the sessions began.
All four musicians (Thayil, Shepard, singer Chris Cornell, and drummer Matt Cameron) contributed a great deal of songwriting effort to the album, led by Cornell’s “Rusty Cage” (later covered by Johnny Cash), the aforementioned ” Outshined”, the very surreal “Searching with My Good Eye Closed”, the hypnotic “Mind Riot” and the less distinctive “Holy Water”.
For his part, drummer Cameron gave timbre to “Drawing Flies” with saxophone. And, in unison with Thayil, the monstrous riff-doom of “Room a Thousand Years Wide”. And the ominous “New Damage”, one of the many songs that boast of unorthodox times, in this case a 9/8.
Then there was newcomer Shepherd, whom Cornell said in Kerrang! that he had brought a “fresh and creative” approach to the band’s recording process. And Thayil also said that Shepherd’s contributions helped make the album “faster” and “weirder”. By this they were referring to Ben’s two minute punk rock hyper-explosion “Face Pollution”. The more deliberate, but surprisingly contagious «Somewhere». And, in collaboration with Cornell, the ultra-demonic “Slaves and Bulldozers.” An eclectic triplet to say the least.
But the piece de resistance off “Badmotorfinger” was a four-band collaboration called “Jesus Christ Pose,” rising from Cameron’s hallucinatory percussive assault to boast dissonant six-string choke over a relentless-charging lead riff, all capped off by Cornell’s inimitable wails. who denounce the calculated martyrdom of so many rock stars. It represents the cryptic and defiant beauty of the band’s music.
In fact, even the title of “Badmotorfinger” was intentionally chosen for its many potential interpretations, none of which could be properly explained by depicting a spark plug cover within a mysterious cyclone design. But, on a promotional CD sent to radio and press by A&M Records, Thayil suggested that Montrose’s song title “Bad Motor Scooter” was played, adding to The Music Paper: “It was just something that came out of my head.” head. I just like it because it was colorful. He was also a bit aggressive. It evokes many different kinds of images. We like the ambiguity in it, the way it sounded and the way it looked.”
While it ultimately broke the platinum sales mark, “Badmotorfinger” remained a cause célèbre for grunge connoisseurs until a slew of music consumers revisited it after digesting the easier rewards of “Superunknown” years later. . While “Badmotorfinger’s” status as a classic of the grunge era was never in doubt, its deepest, darkest treasures simply weren’t given to listeners as freely as Nirvana or Pearl Jam have. But who would do it any other way?
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Soundgarden and “Badmotorfinger”: his experimental masterpiece
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