Every Soundgarden album ranked from ‘worst’ to best
Let’s be as transparent from the off as possible: Soundgarden never released a bad album. In fact, let’s be even more transparent: they never released an album that was anything less than extraordinary. While we’re at it, it’s also worth stressing that at least two of their records not only helped define music in the ’90s, but also helped fundamentally alter the trajectory of rock’n’roll forever. With those self-evident truths reaffirmed, then, let’s start the impossible task of ranking them in order…
6. Ultramega OK (1988)
The OK part of the title of Soundgarden’s debut is not only superfluous, it is an outright lie. This 1988 full-length deserved to be christened Ultramega, plain and simple. Or possibly Ultramega-mega. It is, of course, not where Soundgarden’s story officially starts, that being their two Sub Pop EPs Screaming Life/Fopp, which were collected into a mini-album. But it’s Ultramega OK that presents – albeit sometimes in rough form – the charismatic fusion of metal, punk, psychedelia and hard rock that would go on to make the Seattleites so revered on songs like Flower, Nazi Driver and Incessant Maze. If anything, Ultramega OK has aged better than most Soundgarden records simply due to the stellar re-mastering job by Jack Endino in 2017, which sharpened the shit out of it to mouth-watering effect. Best of all is Beyond The Wheel, boasting a slow, ominous rumble that Black Sabbath would have been proud to call their own.
5. King Animal (2012)
It remains heartbreaking that, following the tragic loss of Chris Cornell, we will never hear a new Soundgarden album. We can at least be thankful that we got King Animal, an album that ended 16 years of painful waiting in the most spectacular fashion. Indeed, it was King Animal’s inherent quality – not simply its mere existence – that made their A‑Sides greatest hits release obsolete. Simply put, you can’t talk about the best of Soundgarden without including the bleak quietude of Black Saturday, the drilling By Crooked Steps or the astounding tangled riff of Non-State Actor. Far from the sound of a band learning how to play together again, Soundgarden were in fact firing on all cylinders here.
4. Louder Than Love (1989)
By 1989, Soundgarden had found themselves signed to a major label, and it’s safe to say they delivered for them. Majorly. Louder Than Love remains staggering in just how supremely confident it is – perhaps most so in Chris Cornell’s grandstanding vocal performance on Ugly Truth, Hands All Over and Loud Love. It produced a litany of classic tracks, including their incredible critique of hair/glam metal fuckboys with Big Dumb Sex. The song that stands out the most, though, is Gun – a magnificent track that morphs from slow-motion heaviness to snarling lightspeed rage and back again on a dime. It is enough to give your metronome a heart attack it won’t recover from.
3. Down On The Upside (1996)
Historically speaking, it is hard to tell which prevailing factor eclipsed the music of Down On The Upside more. Was it the fact that it wasn’t Superunknown Part Two (and certainly not as successful as that album), or was it the fact that, for a long, long time, its legacy stood as the album that precipitated Soundgarden’s implosion? While the latter was largely scrubbed from memory upon their reunion, the fact that it wasn’t met with the same commercial or critical acclaim as Superunknown has proven a blight. Its reputation as something of a quiet disappointment is totally undeserved. Down On The Upside contains some of the most breath-taking and progressive songs of their catalogue: the frenetic race through Ty Cobb, the glorious disenchantment of Blow Up The Outside World, and the ragged haze of Pretty Noose. As an album, though, it’s often at its most impressive the quieter it gets, with the sublime mood music of Applebite being but one example. The finest moment comes courtesy of Tighter & Tighter: an all-too unheralded psychedelic (and mesmeric) gem in Soundgarden’s discography.
2. Superunknown (1994)
Superunknown is Soundgarden’s biggest-selling album, certainly their most iconic, and, for a great swathe of people out there, their definitive statement as a band. It is, indeed, entirely possible to argue that. Even allowing for a hypothetical game in which the ubiquitous likes of Black Hole Sun, Fell On Black Days and Spoooooooooonman (read: Spoonman) were removed from the tracklisting, there is still an abundance of classic songs. So much so that it is almost embarrassing. It is a record that proudly stands shoulder-to-shoulder with any of the stellar albums released in 1994 – including Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral, Manic Street Preachers’ Holy Bible, Green Day’s Dookie, Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy and Weezer’s ‘Blue’ Album. On songs like Black Hole Sun, Fell On Black Days, The Day I Tried To Live, and most remarkably Limo Wreck, Soundgarden were a band on a mission to broaden their sound like never before. Oh, how they succeeded. It remains one of the greatest rock albums of all time. And yet, amazingly, it is not their best…
1. Badmotorfinger (1991)
Back in 1991, Kerrang! posed a rather bold question on our cover: ‘Are these men from Seattle the future of metal?’ The answer at the time was yes. The answer now, well over a quarter of a century on is still, well, yes. An emphatic yes. An unfuckwithable yes. Badmotorfinger still not only sounds like the future of metal, but a distant one beyond the grasp of mere mortal bands. Genre fault lines of old like punk, metal and hard rock were all but dissolved into one razor-sharp whole here. A nonstop barrage of mutagenic riffs – at once utterly chaotic and yet somehow precision-tooled – it is an overwhelming listen. Even shorn of its alchemic combination of Chris and Kim Thayil’s dueling guitars on Rusty Cage, it boasted songcraft so exquisite that Johnny Cash was drawn to cover it in his twilight years. In Outshined’s ‘I’m looking California and feeling Minnesota’ lyric, Chris struck upon perhaps his finest line – at once both deeply witty and yet resolutely wounded. And then there is Jesus Christ Pose, a song unfathomably propulsive in nature and yet so elegant in the way it harnesses its rage. It effectively serves as the spirit of Soundgarden distilled to five minutes, 51-seconds flat. And you know what? It still sounds like the fucking future of rock music. It probably always will.
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