Superunknown pleasures

By Paul Rigg

A 25th anniversary is a time for reflection but, in contrast to the celebration of the 20th year of Superunknown’s 1994 release, we cannot this time ignore the tragic loss of Soundgarden’s co-founder, lyricist, guitarist and lead singer, Chris Cornell.


When Cornell walked into his hotel room after closing another successful concert in Detroit on 17th May 2017 and almost immediately tied a noose around his neck, it brought an unbelievably heavy chapter to a close. That chapter began with Malfunkshun and Mother Love Bone’s Andrew Wood’s heroin overdose at 24; Nirvana’s
Kurt Cobain’s suicide at 27; and Alice in Chain’s Layne Stayley’s death from drug addiction at 34. All were Cornell’s close friends and/or colleagues. And those who love grunge once more had to hang their heads.

While these lead singers’ legacy is enormous, there is nothing about such carnage to celebrate.  

Specifically, Superunknown kicks off with a song entitled Let Me Drown, and ends with Like Suicide; making it difficult to avoid the themes being dealt with. 

The album, produced by Michael Beinhorn, catapulted Soundgarden into the mainstream, hit the number one spot on the Billboard 200 and produced five hit singles. The 16 songs on the record span over 70 minutes because, as Cornell said at the time, "we didn't really want to argue over what should be cut." 

Given the ambience of the album as a whole it is perhaps ironic that the first single, Spoonman, has nothing to do with being a junkie, but is about an actual man, Artis the Spoonman, who really did play the spoons in the streets of Seattle.
The song is about "the paradox of who [Artis] is and what people perceive him as,” said Cornell.

The oustanding follow up single, The Day I Tried To Live
is, again according to Cornell, “about trying to step out of being […] closed off and reclusive, which I've always had a problem with. It's about attempting to be normal.”

The Beatlesque mega-hit Black Hole Sun, the third single release, is perhaps the band’s best known song and maybe also its most misunderstood. With its incredibly cheerful and catchy hook it had people all over the world focusing on the word ‘sun’ in the chorus, when in fact it is about the end of the world. The title came from some words that Cornell mis-heard on the radio and ironically, having written the song, he thought the band would not like it. But Kim Thayil’s outstanding guitar playing helped take it to a whole other level.

My Wave
, like Fell on Black Days, contains some odd timings, with Thayil playing a cool riff in the signature of 6/4 in the latter on his Gibson Les Paul Custom Lite. There are many other great tracks on the album, such as the funky Fresh Tendrils, but for this reviewer, Fell on Black Days is the real highlight.    

So let yourself drown in these great songs, feel the ‘Cornell connection’ and then emerge into the light with some part of you renewed. Guitars Exchange sends its love to you. Be kind to yourself.