Another month, another gang of 90s rock veterans getting back together. On the surface it might seem difficult to get too breathless over Soundgarden’s vow to reform after a 12 year hiatus.
Certainly, if all the people on Twitter hailing the Seattle band’s comeback had actually bought their last studio album, 1996’s ‘Down On The Upside’, they might not have had to split up in the first place.
Cynicism aside, though, the return of Soundgarden is to be welcomed – and not just because it’ll prevent singer Chris Cornell from releasing any more solo albums as catastrophically ill-judged as the Timbaland-produced ‘Scream’, a song from which inspired one mystified YouTube commenter to complain: “Um… I think I puked in my brain.”
More than just another Seattle grunge band, Soundgarden both predated the movement – they formed in 1984 – and outgrew it: their biggest hit, ‘Black Hole Sun’, was a blast of blackened psychedelia that had precious little to do with the likes of Pearl Jam. Strip away Kim Thayil’s squalling guitar work and it could almost be a Beach Boys song, albeit a particularly warped and experimental one.
In many ways Soundgarden’s career mirrored that of their sometime Sub Pop labelmates Nirvana – their breakthrough album ‘Badmotorfinger’ came out just a few weeks after ‘Nevermind’, in October 1991, and the two bands even briefly shared a member (though not simultaneously), guitarist Jason Everman.
Yet in other respects they were profoundly different. Whereas Kurt Cobain saw himself primarily as a punk and attempted to bury his classic rock influences in the wake of ‘Nevermind’, Soundgarden consciously – and proudly – aped 70s behemoths Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath: they even covered Sabbath’s ‘Into The Void’.
For that reason they were the most ‘metal’ of all the key 90s grunge bands, defined as much by their technical virtuosity – Thayil’s Eastern-inspired solos, Cornell’s octave-leaping vocals – as any ‘alternative’ mindset. Indeed, they were the first grunge band to sign to a major label, paving the way for the 90s alt-rock boom.
So yes, I’m looking forward to the inevitable summer festival dates – Download headliners, maybe? – and arena shows. Who knows, maybe they’ll play some sweaty club in London and I can pretend I’m Campbell Scott in that scene in ‘Singles’, only hopefully less of a total square.