I’ve been obsessing about music since about the year 2000. Over this time I’ve bought what must now be nearly 1,000 albums, and heard hundreds more through friends, relatives, streaming services and whatever else. I’ve also watched over a decade’s worth of music videos and heard countless individual songs on the radio, free covermounted CDs, websites and whatever else. All that, as well as read years and years worth of music magazines and websites.
I’m a nerd. Basically. Only, instead of Space Precinct or hobbycraft, its Music that I obsess about. Lots of people are nerds and don’t even realize it. Sometimes its obvious; trainspotting, stamp collecting etc. Sometimes its less obvious due to presentation. Some (make that many) football fans’ depth of knowledge about players and transfer costs and club histories would make many tram-enthusiasts seem normal by comparison. The amount of information that some people know about Reality-TV celebrities and their sex-lives would easily overpower my knowledge of bands, or the most dedicated Dr. Who fan’s knowledge of the Tardis.
But I don’t like Football or Reality TV or Trams or Dr. Who. I like Heavy Metal music. That’s what this Blog is all about.
Welcome to my First Impressions series of articles too, incidentally. In this series I (or sometimes my friends, or readers) pick an album for each entry that I will listen to for the first time. I then write in depth about what I know about that album or the artist that created it and the genre and subgenre to which they belong, before describing the experience of listening to it in real time, in a sort of semi-stream-of-consciousness way intended for entertainment purposes. I also enjoy writing reviews of albums, but when I write reviews my goal is to be helpful and provide you with information with which to aide your decision about whether to try out an album or not. When I write a First Impressions article however my goal is purely to entertain the reader, explore how much I know about music and be my own psychiatrist in the process.
I may go into some very specific detail and assume you have heard everything I’ve ever heard and perceived everything in the manner I’ve perceived it, and call out very specific sections of music and draw comparisons between things that the casual listener may find completely unrelated. Don’t worry, most of these songs are on Youtube and most of the terminology is on Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary anyway, so if there’s anything that goes over your head, you can always get clarification in a second web-browser-tab (or ask about it in the comments).
According to the aim of the series, the albums are considered by the public and music critics knowledgeable about the subject to be Classic albums within Rock and Metal, or at least within their own Subgenres. Classic albums that I’ve somehow missed out on, despite my nerdly need to hear and understand almost every piece of recorded Metal music ever.
If you have an album that you’d like to read a KingcrimsonBlog First Impressions article about, please suggest it in the comments, I’m game, I’ll give anything a try.
So that’s the preamble out of the way, on to the article: I’ve been living in my new house for two weeks now, lifting a lot of weights and getting everything sorted out. I haven’t had much time to Blog up until now, or when I have I’ve been too sleepy or have had a splitting headache or whatever. Look, this relationship is about more than just blogging Ok? and its not romantic for me when you’re this drunk. We’ll talk about it in the morning.
The subject of today’ headache-free, well-rested blogging experience will be Badmotorfinger by Soundgarden. That’s right. Its another Seattle Grunge album that I missed out on even when Grunge videos were always on music-tv when I grew up and even though a lot of my friends listened to them. At the time I got into Nirvana and Pearl Jam and that’s it. Oh, well, also Silverchair as regular readers will know.
You’ll also know that I’ve just gotten into Alice In Chains, and that I like writing these sorts of articles (62 so far) and really it doesn’t take Nostradamus to figure out that this article was probably going to happen sooner or later.
In between then and now I had watched the Grunge documentary Hype! again, and listened to a podcast where they all banged on about how great Soundgarden were and that had my interest up, especially in this new not-hating-grunge mindset, bolstered by my several-year-long “expand your mind, loose your prejudices” approach to music and the idea of hearing a new album fit for inclusion in the 1,000 albums a Metal Fan Should Try Out project that has consumed my thoughts since its inception.
[Side Note: This First Impressions Series and that List really changed how my mind works. I barely give a crap about a new Black Sabbath album (In fact I listened to Sabbath’s 13 album again last night just to get my money’s worth, and felt like I had only listened to it for the first time, so unfamiliar was I with the songs) but I am excited to go and check out some album by someone like Extreme or someone else I never heard any music from. …Blogging – Not Even Once]
I was always super put-off Soundgarden by ‘Black Hole Sun’ which I utterly hated as a teen, and refuse to ever watch the video for ever again, and turn off whenever I hear even a few seconds of it, even now at this stage. I was made Soundgarden-curious in the last two years however because anytime I’d read about Stoner Rock and Monster Magnet (and I love Stoner Rock and Monster Magnet) I’d always hear a mention of Soundgarden and how they had some sonic similarities. (In fact when I went to see Monster Magnet Live last year a photographer started talking to me about Soundgarden’s new album after we’d ran the Monster Magnet discussion dry.)
The final straw was about a week ago when Soundgarden were playing in my home city and so the radio played some Soundgarden at the moment I turned it on, I turned it on in the vocal-free middle of ‘Spoonman’ and absolutely loved the song free from prejudice or context. When the vocals came in I thought damn, Audioslave’s later material mustn’t have been as bad as everyone said… then Cornell said ‘Spoonman’ and I caught on.
I immediately decided to pick up some cheap Soundgarden. I found a two-pack of Louder Than Love and Badmotorfinger on Amazon for about four quid, and now here we are. I would’ve liked to get ‘Spoonman’ in the deal since that’s what kicked it all off, but its on the same record as ‘Black Hole Sun’ which I want to avoid, and not available in a two-pack with Badmotorfinger anyway as far as I could see.
The album opens up with ‘Rusty Cage.’ I recognize the title as being a famous single, but not the music. There’s a high-pitched intro riff and then a fun riff that feels a bit like someone learning how to play a Megadeth riff. The bass and drums remind me of C.O.C’s ‘Getting It On’ a little. It also reminds me a bit of the fast bits in Clutch’s ‘Electric Worry.’ Chris Cornell’s vocals seem a bit all over the place, time-sig wise. He comes in at unexpected points for unexpected durations and at unexpected speeds. He’s always credited as sounding like Robert Plant, but he reminds me of Glen Hughes more. In fact this song sounds a bit like Black Country Communion with hints of Black Label Society in there. Hmmm… Some Alice In Chains sounded like Black Label Society too. I guess Black Label Society are pretty grungey then, huh? There we go, Soundgarden sound like Black Label Communion.
‘Outshined’ follows. It starts with a slow, Sabbathy riff, that also feels slightly reminiscent of Alice In Chains’ ‘Damn That River.’ The vocals are working along more traditional logics now. This one reminds me of early Silverchair actually. As I understand it, this was a hit as well. I never heard it at the time. Its not famous to me at all, not in the same way as ‘Jeremy’ ‘In Bloom’ or ‘Jesus Chirst Pose’ were. The vocals in this song sound more like the voice that Cornell used in Audioslave than on the previous one. I had a quick listen to Louder Than Love last night too and the vocals there were usually a lot deeper and very different to the Audioslave style.
‘Slaves & Bulldozers’ is just basically a Stoner-Doom song. Its like Sleep or Down. Just a fat, slow Sabbathy riff all the way through. The bits where he repeats ‘Now I Know What You’ve Been Taking’ are really cool. They work along a sort of ‘When The Levee Breaks’ logic. It sounds like the raw ingredients to a Rage Against The Machine Song only with that funky bounce missing. If you took this riff and played it after listening to the music in Starsky And Hutch though you’d fit in fine on RATM’s debut. Hmmm. Perhaps then it makes a bit more sense that Cornell ended up the singer of Audioslave, because to me at the time it seemed as unusual as Chester Bennington joining Stone Temple Pilots does now. Although, hey, bands were always at this sort of carry on. Just look back at Black Sabbath hiring Glen Hughes. Actually, you know, it also reminds me a bit of BCC’s version of ‘The Ballad Of John Henry’ a little bit too.
Next up comes the famous ‘Jesus Christ Pose.’ The production reminds me of C.O.C’s ‘Albatross’ mixed with Machine Head’s ‘Block.’ The squeaky, rusty sounding lead reminds me of Goliath-era Mars Volta. I like the rolling toms. They remind me a bit of System Of A Down for some reason. I like the riff that comes in over the top. Its like a dark and evil version of Fu Manchu. Cornell’s vocals are good. I can see why people like this one, its got x-factor. There’s a part where the build up sort of pays-off and they bring in new riffs. One of them sounds like Tool. It sounds a bit sneaky. If it was three times as fast it would remind me of Protest The Hero. The ending takes a definite Mars Volta turn towards the messy.
‘Face Pollution’ comes in next, its got a fast, fun, bouncy, skateboards-in-the-video punky mood. It’s a bit Fu Manchu too actually. It’s a nice change of pace after all the slow doomy stuff (well, except ‘Jesus Christ Pose’ which was faster too). Maybe they should have put it after one of the slower ones instead of after JCP. That might’ve broken the album up a bit more. Eitherway, fun song, didn’t expect it. If Soundgarden sound a bit like Fu Manchu and are megastars, why aren’t Fu Manchu a bit more famous? I guess they have a brilliant formula but no x-factor.
‘Somewhere’ opens up exactly like a Monster Magnet song for about three seconds but then turns exactly into the definition of Grunge. The body’s of the parts are unappealing, but they throw in these little tails that make them a bit better. It reminds me of the less famous songs on Pearl Jam’s first three albums. The way the wrist works on the chords is a large part of what separates Grunge from Stoner.
‘Searching With My Good Eye Closed’ has a long drawn out intro and then sounds a bit like ‘Bullet The Blue Sky’ meets early Foo Fighters via Queensryche’s Q2K album. It’s a bit of a non-event for me. A bit bland. Its also six and a half minutes long. There’s a fun sort of psychedelic-sounding mid-section though. Overall though, a bit bland and forgettable. There’s nothing specifically wrong with it, but…
‘Room A Thousand Years Wide’ has a heavy and dark riff that reminds me a lot of Alice In Chains. It has a slow bit that sounds like it may be in an odd time-sig. The vocals sound a bit more like Eddie Vedder than usual. This is a much better song than the last two. A saxophone comes in at the end. I guess I’m just used to that from Tull and Crimson and Faith No More and Queensryche because it just sounds like ‘Of course a Sax comes in there’ instead of the shock it probably is supposed to sound like.
‘Mind Riot’ has a feeling sort of like the ballads from Led Zeppelin 3 and 4. Its electric, its actually more like a No Code and Yield era Pearl Jam song (maybe the amazing ‘Given To Fly’) but it has these massive bluesy overtones. This is a nice bit of variety in the album. Its actually a big highlight. I think it’s the third best one next to JCP and Face Pollution.
‘Drawing Flies’ is pure rock fun. Its like C.O.C’s ‘Steady Roller’ meets Clutch’s ‘The Mob Goes Wild’ via a Roadsaw album. Its also got sax punctuation like a Skynyrd song live or GNR’s ‘Move To The City.’ Its short, fun, effective and over before it overstays its welcome.
‘Holy Water’ sounds quite stereotype grungey but is a good version of this. It’s about a minute too long but its got a nice energy and good leads. It reminds me of pubs for some reason. I can see the drummer playing in a soul band in a pub. It introduces a cool new idea at the end and sort of fades out on that. That last bit could’ve used more exploring, rather than drawing out the first bit so much. Mixing up the two might’ve been a bit more interesting. Oh well.
‘New Damage’ is a massively stripped down, slow, doomy, Sabbath’s-debut-feeling album closer that reminds me a bit of ‘Hate To Feel’ by Alice In Chains. It sounds like unhappiness. Its interesting how Sabbathy and Doomy so much Grunge music is, because in my own personal experience of talking to specific Doom fans, they are exactly the kind of people to dismiss the connection between Grunge and Metal. Judging by the sounds of it though, they should be the most embracing fans. Annoying people. Oh well. If we all agreed nothing cool would get invented.
Ok. That was the record. Not much of it sounded like Monster Magnet at all but nevermind. The album is 57 minutes. I think it had enough great moments for a 45-minute album. 45 minutes is a great length for a non-concept album. There were about three songs that really grabbed me on first listen, and about six more that are good enough that I know I’ll like them a lot more within the next five spins. They could’ve maybe cut ‘Staring With My Good Eye Closed’ and not lost too much. I wasn’t massively keen on ‘New Damage’ either.
I also feel a little like all the songs are in the wrong order. I think for my own benefit I’ll rearrange them in iTunes so that it flows better. Hey, it managed to sell millions without my help though, so I guess that running order and length complaint duo doesn’t affect its quality too much for most people.
Apart from some small niggles though, it was an above-decent album with some very good individual tracks. It also helped me with my journey to understand how all music connects together so it was interesting in that context too. Plus its interesting to hear Cornell outside of Audioslave’s debut (the up-until-now only appearance he has in my music library, save for his guest spot on Alice In Chains’ song ‘Right Turn’ …which is a pretty damn new addition anyway). Best of all… no ‘Black Hole Sun’ in sight.
Ok, that’s all for now. Time to go and listen to Protest The Hero for the billionth time this week. Fuck me, I love their debut.