Why Soundgarden's Superunknown Is The Best Grunge Album Ever

A 20th anniversary re-release proves that Cornell and co's fourth album smashes anything from Nirvana and Pearl Jam, as if it was ever in doubt...
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A 20th anniversary re-release proves that Cornell and co's fourth album smashes anything from Nirvana and Pearl Jam, as if it was ever in doubt...

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When it came out in March 1994, Superunknown took Soundgarden from cult to superstar status overnight. An instant no.1 that went five times platinum and won two Grammies, it's a classic that still sounds fresh today. To celebrate the album's 20th anniversary, the band have released a special reissues that comes as either a 2-disc or 5-disc selection, both chock with demos, b-sides and lots of other collector-loving goodies. Cracking.

It took a while for Soundgarden to really hit their stride. Superunknown was their fourth album, but what came before wasn't a patch on their magnum opus. UltramegaOK & Louder Than Love were nothing special, just the sound of a band trying to find their feet. I've heard a lot of people say they prefer 1991's Badmotorfinger, but while it's good and is definitely their heaviest album, it just doesn't have the quality songwriting and consistency of Superunknown had.

Where Badmotorfinger only really had 'Rusty Cage', 'Outshined' and 'Jesus Christ Pose', Superunknown had an endless list of awesome; 'Fell On Black Days', 'Mailman', 'Limowreck', 'Spoonman' and of course their ubiquitous single, 'Black Hole Sun'. From start to finish the album was heavy and melodic, full of huge hooks but never sounded forced or contrived. It was the sound of a great band with creative juices flowing freely.

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Anyone who already knew the band was aware of frontman Chris Cornell's obscene lung capacity (check the ungodly screams of 'Jesus Christ Pose' if not), but for Superunknown he upped his game. With a range that ran from low croon all the way to siren wail, he gave a performance that put him up with the likes of Dio and Robert Plant in stature. And it was all backed up by Kim Thayil, whose excellent guitar work often goes underappreciated.

Obviously there will be naysayers who claim Nirvana or Alice In Chains were better. Nirvana were good, but ripping off the Pixies will only get you so far. And despite Courtney Love's best efforts, what part of Nirvana's legacy do we hear more about - Cobain's cult of personality or his music? Pearl Jam were always also-rans, and as much as I love Alice In Chains, Soundgarden will always edge it for me.

Put simply, Superunknown was the defining Grunge album from the best band of the Grunge movement. If you've never heard, go and listen to it until your ears bleed. If you already know it, go and listen to it again. You've probably forgotten how awesome it is.

The re-issue of Superunknown is out now.  Get a copy here