It was such an exciting and refreshing time for rock and roll. By 1994 the once untouchable, good-time, arena rock poster boys all had been taken to the woodshed — flogged, humiliated and relegated to beer joints and bargain bins. And the initial hot and horny attraction music fans had to the Seattle sound already was simmering. So, a big brain teaser at the time was, which up-and-coming acts of the early ‘90s would prevail and which ones would be pummeled in the post-grunge era?
1994 certainly helped separate the wheat from the chaff, as Alice In Chains hit #1 on the Billboard chart with Jar of Flies — a feat soon matched by Stone Temple Pilots’ triumphant sophomore set, Purple, and Pantera’s bone-crunching collection, Far Beyond Driven. However, there was another chart-topping rock record released in 1994. In fact, it debuted at #1 when it arrived 25 years ago this week (March 8, 1994). And for many music enthusiasts, it’s considered one of the definitive albums of the ‘90s.
Overseen by celebrated producer, Michael Beinhorn (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Hole, Ozzy Osbourne, Marilyn Manson), and mixed by acknowledged go-to guru, Brendan O’Brien (Pearl Jam, AC/DC, The Offspring, Korn, My Chemical Romance), Superunknown< was the fourth studio slab from Seattle’s alt/metal messiah, Soundgarden.
If you’ve yet to hear “Black Hole Sun”, we have no idea what you’ve been doing with your life.
Following the impressive platinum-selling success of the band’s Grammy-nominated 1991 release, Badmotorfinger, expectations for Superunknown were extremely high. Frontman and guitarist Chris Cornell, lead guitarist Kim Thayil, bassist Ben Shepherd, and drummer Matt Cameron approached the record reportedly as more of a group effort than previous projects. The result was a blistering, cohesive, radio-ready offering — one brimming with Stonehenge-size riffs and often disturbing, dark messages.
Superunknown has been praised for possessing the heaviness of the band’s earlier work, while also embracing more diverse influences. In an interview I conducted back in 2002, even Cinderella frontman, Tom Keifer, had praise for the record. “Soundgarden was loud guitars cranked up through Marshalls with screaming vocals,” Keifer commented. “It all sounded like rock and roll to me.”
But it takes more than a smorgasbord of stylistic influences, a psychedelic-inspired vibe, a guitar-driven sound, wailing vocals and brooding lyrics to sell nine million units worldwide. To still be regarded so highly, by so many, after so long — that requires songs, great songs. In that regard, Superunknown unleashed a slew of rust-proof singles, including “Spoonman,” “Fell on Black Days,” “My Wave” and what has become one of rock’s all-time most iconic tracks, “Black Hole Sun.” Truth be told, the record is so strong, even deeper tracks such as, “Let Me Drown,” “Mailman” and “The Day I Tried to Live” are as powerful as the acknowledged “hits.”
If you “Fell On Black Days” when learning of Chris Cornell’s passing, you’re not alone.
So many records are over-hyped these days, right out of the box — only to be forgotten in relatively short order. But when a record still sounds fresh and has remained relevant for a quarter century — now, that’s a true classic. And that defines Superunknown perfectly.
Superunknown Track Listing:
01. Let Me Drown – 3:51
02. My Wave – 5:12
03. Fell on Black Days – 4:42
04. Mailman – 4:25
05. Superunknown – 5:06
06. Head Down – 6:08
07. Black Hole Sun – 5:18
08. Spoonman – 4:06
09. Limo Wreck – 5:47
10. The Day I Tried to Live – 5:19
11. Kickstand – 1:34
12. Fresh Tendrils – 4:16
13. 4th of July – 5:08
14. Half – 2:14
15. Like Suicide – 7:01
Run Time: 70:13
Release Date: March 8, 1994
Record Label: A&M Records