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25 Years Of Local H
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MAY 18 2017
Well this fucking sucks. The news this morning of Chris Cornell's passing - yet another untimely rock star death of a front man who rose to prominence in the '90s - is starting to make Kurt's suicide seem like less of an isolated incident and more like the opening salvo in some kind of sick grunge version of Final Destination. Death comes for us all, but this is ridiculous. I'm genuinely worried now for a number of singers out of Seattle - and I don't dare utter any of their names for fear that the reaper will hear me. It's also weird to me because I've been thinking about Cornell a lot lately. Over the last six months, I've found myself listening to their 1996 album Down On The Upside an awful lot. It was the follow up to their most successful record, Superunkown, and the prevailing wisdom at the time was that it didn't quite measure up. At best, Upside was a willful pullback from the commercialism of Superunkown and an effort to get out from under the iron hand of producer Michael Beinhorn. At worst, the songs just weren't that good. The band seemed to agree - within a year of the album's release, they would say fuck it and break up the band. But listening to it these last few months, I've come to realize that it might be Soundgarden's best. The first half of the record is dominated by three Cornell singles that wouldn't have sounded out of place on Superunkown - Pretty Noose, Burden In My Hand, and Blow Up The Outside World. That last one being the finest Beatles rip in Soundgarden's entire catalogue of awesome Beatles rips. But the second half is where things get really interesting. Never Named and No Attention, a couple of the loopiest rockers they've ever recorded, are played by the band as a four-way prize fight. Kim Thayil demands some attention by throwing a fit on Never The Machine Forever. Tighter and Tighter and Overfloated are two great examples of the band at its bluesiest, Switch Opens is a twisting, turning epic and it's nearly comical listening to Cornell heroically graft a melody onto Matt Cameron's proudly atonal Apple Bite. Running through everything is a knotty tension that sounds like being elbowed feels. It's the sound of four guys in a room not willing to give a fucking inch to each other - and it's pretty goddamn thrilling. These guys weren't slacking ó they were playing their nuts off ó they just weren't willing to sand off the edges this time. Down On The Upside retains all the digressions and curlicues that had been trimmed from Superunkown excepting, of course, the two Ben Shepard tunes on that album - those songs are fucking weird! To bring up the Beatles again, Down On The Upside is Soundgardenís White Album - and like that album, lack of brevity was perceived to be a weakness. It's not. It's not less ambitious than Superunkown, it's MORE. But in the mid-90s, ragged ambition was not usually welcome. The previous year, Pavement lost a lot of steam over it's clusterfuck masterpiece Wowee Zowee. Sure, it was indie-rock steam rather than multi-platinum steam, but still. And the chilly response to Weezer's Pinkerton sent Cuomo and company into a sad retreat of safe blandness that I don't give two shits if they ever come back from. But fuck all that, my favorite track on Down On The Upside is the last one - and it's one that I'd forgotten even existed: Boot Camp. It's one of the great album closers and it's the first song I thought of when I heard the awful news this morning. It's almost not even a song, it's more of a thumbnail sketch - we open with the band slowly locking into one of their perfectly calibrated, trademarked grooves of Beatlesque psychedelia. For nearly half of the song's three minute run time, the only thing resembling a vocal is the sound of a walkie-talkie nattering in your left year. And then at 1:15, it appears. Like a bird sailing high above the sweltering desert of Kim Thayil's hazy arpeggios - that voice. That fucking voice. That wonderful, amazing voice that will outlive us all bursts through the clouds and finally - FINALLY on this beautifully chaotic record- you feel some sort of peace. And itís great and carthartic and all that other shit. But of course, itís not real. Upon closer inspection of the lyrics, the song is about anything BUT peace. Itís about being trapped. Itís about about being afraid to show yourself. Itís about wanting something else. Something more. Constantly. And it makes the reality of Cornell's suicide not shocking but again sickeningly inevitable. Over 20 years ago, the man wrote his own epitaph, but buried on the last track of a perceived failure. Who bothered to read it? I must obey the rules. I must be tame and cool. #RIPCornell

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