The year is 2011, it’s been roughly 17 years since the demise of the grunge era and it’s troubled figurehead. It’s also been 20 years since the release of iconic, breakthrough album ‘Nevermind’ by up and comers Nirvana. It’s also been 16 years since ‘that’ legendary performance at the Reading Festival in 1992. With such a long time since it’s passing, why does the music industry still care so much for this era, and Nirvana themselves?
It’s not facetious to suggest that Nirvana were an era defining embodiment of a generation, but it’s also often unfairly cited that they were the definitive band of that era. They may have been the figureheads, but they were not the trailblazers in terms of creativity, ability or innovation. That crown lies wholly and solely with Soundgarden.
The band comprising of latitudinal vocalist Chris Cornell, psychedelic axeman Kim Thayil, bassist Ben Sheppard, and Peal-Jammer Ben Sheppard. The band were among the royal circle of seattle based alternative rock. ‘Grunge’, as it became known, tended to be in one of two corner; noisy harder punk, or aggressive, yet emotional metal. Soundgarden towed the line between, creating music that had the expansive opulence and regal psychedelia of Led Zeppelin injected with a veracious yet innovative punk twist (a la Sonic Youth). The first band of the era to be signed by a major label, Soundgarden showed promise from an early level and went on to become one of the seminal bands in the creation of grunge. The band themselves didn’t actually achieve commercial fame until fellow seattle contemporaries such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam helped to popularize the genre.
But like I said, it’s 2011. Does it still matter? Does it still fit at Reading?
Well Soundgarden seem to have gotten the raw end of the deal somewhere along the line. Mention Peal Jam, Nirvana, Alice In Chains, you get nothing but rapturous applause. But Soundgarden tend to shrugged off. Which is highly unfair. The band have sold approximately 20 million records worldwide, and have more award nomination and wins than you could shake a stick at. They’ve toured with the greatest bands, even being specifically handpicked to co-headline and support such legends as Guns n Roses and Metallica.
It’s odd that Soundgarden aren’t as well thought as these other acts, because arguable, they are far more important. Their sound was an oddity, they pushed musical ground by often utilizing alternative tuning and unorthodox time signatures. That, mixed with Cornell’s far reaching vocal range, and Thayil’s hypnotic guitar style helped to create a sound which was nothing but unique. It’s The Stooges meet Black Sabbath. It’s Bauhaus meet Led Zeppelin. It’s Pink Floyd meets the MC5. And it caught on.
Their best known albums being Badmotorfinger and Superunknown. Both are staples for any music fan. Badmotorfinger is cerebral metal with a psychedelic tinge. Best known for monster rock leviathan ‘Jesus Christ Pose’, which sees Cornell wailing like noone else can over a pummeling and relentless metal riff. ‘Rusty Cage’, which was later covered by Johnny Cash, is another epic fast paced metal anthem. Superunknown became the bands breakthrough success, debuting at number one in America and spawning a slew of rock classics. It took the band’s sheer metal power of Badmotorfinger and fine tuned their creative edge, resulting in an album of nothing less than classic-status proportions. Rolling Stone said it “demonstrates far greater range than many bands manage in an entire career. At its best, Superunknown offers a more harrowing depiction of alienation and despair than anything on In Utero.” Best known for “Black Hole Sun”, a song that is a sprawling and epic oddness that is best encapsulated by it’s video, it was the song that broke them. The album went on two go 6x Platinum, and remains their biggest selling album to date.
It has been said that “Few bands since Led Zeppelin have so crisply mixed instruments both acoustic and electric.” Thus it could be argued that Soudgarden were to the 90’s what Led Zeppelin were to everything. They revolutionized, and they innovated and it’s time to recognize this. 2012 will mark the release of the first Soundgarden album in 15 years. Of it the guitarist said it is “similar in a sense to Down On The Upside” and that the album would be “picking up where we left off”. So here we are… 14 years later. Soundgarden are picking up where they left off, I say we follow suit and book them in their rightful place as headliners of the the Reading Festival 2012. Take us back to 1997, and let Soundgarden launch us furlong into the future.
There is a cultural nostalgia for the 1990’s at the moment. Every aspect of the media seems infatuated with the 90’s. Nickelodeon have revived much of their popular 90’s shows, bands and musicians of the era are reuniting like wildfire, and MTV have just awoken from their apparent amnesia and wondered what went wrong between 1999 and now. Hell they even brought back these two rapscallions to help revive their viewership, and bring back some credibility. Let’s face it, if these two informed and intelligent creatures like it…. it cannot be wrong. Society seems to yearn for a time of great creativity, where the world isn’t run by reality tv, and where music was music.
Every 10/15 years there has been a musical and cultural revolution, be it punk, grunge, britpop, alternative, hip-hop etc… but what unless i’m very much mistaken we’ve not had one recently (nu-rave it certainly wasn’t), so it seems we need to go back to the forebears for help… and none come more full formed, fresh and revitalized than Soundgarden.
What is Soundgarden in 2011?
Well after the band disbanded in 1997 Cornell went on to have a successful solo career, and joined arena crushing supergroup Audioslave with ex members of Rage Against The Machine. Audioslave were a worldwide hit, and hammered their arrival with screeching powerhouse ‘Cochise’, which showed any band, let alone supergroup, just how to make an impact on first arrival. After Audioslave disbanded Cornell went solo again having great success with his superb James Bond theme, but ultimately culminating in the exceedingly shambolic Timberland team-up, ‘Scream’. But since Soundgarden’s split, Cornell’s incredible vocals have been ever present, and is still one of Rock’s modern icons.
Matt Cameron briefly became a Smashing Pumpkin, but went on to become a full fledged member of Pearl Jam. But clearly his heart belongs in the band that started it all for him as he is back, and more hopeful than ever of a Soundgarden future.
1st January 2010. New Years day. Chris Cornell’s twitter reads simply “The 12-year break is over and school is back in session. Sign up now. Knights of the Soundtable ride again!”. A new Soundgarden site, but nothing more. 16th April 2010 they play a triumphant homecoming gig under the pseudonym ‘Nudedragons’. They went on to headline Lollapallooza to rapturous ovation and critical acclaim. ‘Telephantasm’ (a best of collection of sorts) was released in 2011 and was certified platinum on the same day of release.
After the success of Lollapallooza Soundgarden are now a hot commodity in the gig/festival world. If the ‘Knights Of The Sound Table’ are truely riding again, and here to stay… then Reading Festival needs to ride alongside, at very least for one headline appearance.
So… why are Soundgarden headliner material in 2011?
For the simple reason that Soundgarden have left an indelible mark on music history. Their influence is still strong and far reaching as it ever was, to this day they have been covered by the likes of Johnny Cash, Guns n Roses, Dillinger Escape Plan, and Alanis Morrisette.
They’ve inspired and influenced an entire generation. They cater for he alternative crowd, and the metalheads, the old crowd and those who are seeking to live through something they’d previously missed. They are one of the figureheads to the biggest musical movement of the past 30 years. They represent an era of music that fans of alternative music, and thus Reading Festival, are craving for. I don’t necessarily mean ‘grunge’. I mean what Perry Farrell dubbed ‘the Alternative Nation’.
In the opening Paragraph I asked why we cared about Nirvana so much in 2011? Forget the martyr-ism for a second. Is it not because Nirvana are the figureheads of a movement that people are yearning for an area of music that was so creative and wide ranging, with such a wide scope of talent, that we can’t help but look back and wonder. This is where Soundgarden come in. I say, if people want a slice of the alternative nation, if they yearn for grunge, if people want to see the living legend of a previous era return triumphant…. then give it to them. Soundgarden were paving the way, and creating music of strength and magnitude long before Nirvana came along and ripped off the Pixies. Hell Pixies were a strong enough headliner…
Oh yeah, the Pixies. There is an idea. Anyone actually worried that Soundgarden “don’t fit” Reading anymore. Well I put to you a Pixies/Soundgarden co-headline slot? Fill the undercard with exciting young and older bands, and you’ve got yourself your day for those who want a nice slice of legend and icon, with their younger indebted festival acts. Well, at least day tickets might sell out? Adam Grylls