Tuesday, 4 March 2008



Whenever things go wrong in my life (or they are about to) often I will get a song in my head and that is “New Damage” by Soundgarden.  For me this track is a towering achievement as it captures the full essence of a scenario falling apart and the dank scramble that occurs as survival instincts cut in.  The line “the wreck is going down, get out before you drown” is a super effective mantra that comes accompanied by the kind of dry score that will pad any dark time.  And what more does a person need from the records in their life?

This is one beast of an album.  For me it is the best Soundgarden record by a long mile, the one where they still just about seemed part of the local grunge scene while remaining unabashed and defiant as worldwide fame ascended.  This was not punk rock; this was a brand of metal in the best way.  The invention on this record is astounding, something that is easily forgotten when considering the material on their next record that saw their meteoric rise, when dare I suggest they sought a slightly and subtly more accessible route.

I bought this record from Time Records in Colchester when it was a tiny shop stuck next to the gnarly nightclub that was The Hippodrome.  I paid £11.20.  That was a store that attached random prices to things I guess in view to remain the cheapest prices in town while still making a profit.  It was a Saturday where my friends were so much cooler than me because despite being in darkest Essex they wore flannel shirts and DMs.  I just had a tatty jumper and rubbish jeans.  That day I also bought a Mudhoney t-shirt on import from America with a wrestler on the front.  To this day it was coolest band shirt I ever bought.  And unfortunately the one I was wearing when I was beaten up at a birthday party by some gatecrashers from Brightlingsea a few months later on the second ever time that I got drunk (and the first not in front of my parents).  The grunge years certainly left their scars.

Like the majority of people I was introduced to this record with the video for “Jesus Christ Pose”.  Listened to now the song remains astounding, still powerful and very effective.  The playing is immense, taking hard rock to a whole new level.  Soundgarden was never really an indie proposition but to lump them in with metal does not seem quite right either.  The guitars on this track sound like something Sonic Youth would have been proud to achieve and the drum beats tribal.  With this after the initial hive of activity occurs, even before the vocals kick in, Kim Thayil is taking things off in a different route.  Indeed it is almost a minute and a half before Cornell opens his voice.  Then the rest is history.

The album opens with two singles in the form of “Rusty Cage” and “Outshined”.  The former works as a first track for being sprinkled with energy while the latter excels being a dense slab of work that solidifies the record on the stereo.

There are some really lengthy, borderline overblown numbers present here.  Indeed half the songs on the album go past the five-minute mark, which naturally suggests grunge bands weren’t too concerned about retaining their punk credentials.  The best example of this came be found in the floating “Searching With My Good Eye Closed” that chugs along in the manner of swimming through a song as it builds to a great refrain in the sky.  That and one fat as fuck solo in addition to a touch of Stooges-esqe saxophone.

For me it is “Mind Riot” that hints most at what was to come on Superunknown.  It is a more subdued take on their method of rock that climaxes with an incredible hook at the vital point.  Indeed this song could easily have comfortably on what would later become their most popular work.

Towards the end there is one final spurt of punk rock energy in the form of “Drawing Flies” which would later also be the title for one of Kevin Smith’s lesser known works.  It is phenomenal charge that impressively squeezes Cornell’s lengthy lungs into a biting, barely two minute punk song.  Anything to alleviate the boredom.

Finally it all closes on the aforementioned “New Damage”.  The use of the term “damage done” feels like a nod to Neil Young although the music (the sound) hardly suggests so.  This is however the way to close a mighty album.

They made it look easy.

Thesaurus moment: monstrous.

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