If you are looking for an exceptional year for music then 1991 has to be up for consideration. This is the year that saw the release of “ten” by pearl jam, “arise” by sepultura, the black album by Metallica, “bloodsugarsexmagic” by the red hot chilli peppers and one of the biggest albums in the history of rock music, “nevermind” by Nirvana. If that is not a run of stone cold classics then I don’t know what is! However after horrible recent events there is really only one choice for my album of 1991. “Badmotorfinger” by Soundgarden has to be viewed as one of the best rock albums of the 90’s, if not of all time.
If you look at the grunge movement as a whole, in a scene of freaks and oddballs Soundgarden stand out as unique.Nirvana had massive choruses, Alice in chains had a dark streak and Pearl jam had a classic rock element. Soundgarden had all of it but in a really odd way. There is something strangely disjointed about them. They are a hardcore punk band playing black sabbath style guitar riffs. It shouldn’t work but it really does.
I don’t know why but the albums from this period sound massive and “badmotorfinger” is no exception. I think that a large part of this is down to Terry Date. His production job on this album is almost textbook. He makes every individual element of the band standout without any one aspect drowning out the others. I don’t know how he makes everything sound both monstrously lumbering and heavy and yet tight as hell. Played correctly through headphones, this album can shake the fillings from your teeth and is utterly glorious for it.
Better writers than myself could fill book after book about the individual musicians in soundgarden so I will try and keep this as brief as I can. Firstly Kim Thayil is a massively underrated guitar player. He gets some really strange sounds to come out of his guitar over the top of those bone snapping riffs. A weird sorcerer of a musician mixing mad scientist inventiveness with straight up sabbath worship. Ben Shepherd on bass not only fills out the low end but brings a frantic energy to the album. This was his first album with the band and you can feel the enthusiasm and confidence he brings. Matt Cameron is a machine of a drummer and just makes the whole thing sound effortless. Then front and centre is Chris Cornell. I believe you would have to go a very long way to find a vocalist to even come close to the standard of his performance on “badmotorfinger”. Soundgarden have that classic rock vibe because with a voice like Cornell’s it’s unavoidable. It’s huge. It’s stadium filling and earth shaking. I’ve described it before as a voice you can get lost in. It picks you up and pushes all the pressure points in your soul. You would have to be made of stone not to feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand up when Cornell is belting out “rusty cage”. His passing is a genuine loss to music.
All this however wouldn’t have meant a huge amount if the album wasn’t jammed with stunning songs. “Outshined”, “Jesus Christ pose”, “room a thousand years wide”, every single track on “badmotorfinger” is a heavyweight. This was their third album and it feels to me that something just clicked for soundgarden when they were writing this. A shade under an hour in length and it feels like no time at all. It is a lean, strong brawler of an album. Nothing is wasted and every blow counts. It doesn’t feel it’s age like some of the albums from the grunge era. That’s because there is no trickery, no gimmicks. Just one of the greatest bands to ever do it just playing awesome songs.