A & M Records, 1991

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Chris Cornell and Soundgarden seemed to be on a roll following the release of their 1989 major-label debut Louder Than Love. Consumer interest in this band began to really grow, even if they weren't getting the kind of airplay that they were destined to get. Following the promo-only disc Louder Than Live, many of us who had discovered this band were asking, "What are they going to do for a follow-up?"

The answer came in 1991, with the release of Badmotorfinger. The album marked two changes for the band: the debut of bassist Ben Shepherd (replacing Hiro Yamamoto) and a more thought-out, pre-meditated attack on some of the songs. While this move might have confused a few of us (including myself) at the time, what this was doing was beginning to steer us toward the sound the band would embrace on albums like Superunknown.

For the first part of the album, vocalist Cornell, Shepherd, guitarist Kim Thayil and drummer Matt Cameron continued in the same path that they had followed on Louder Than Love, the only major difference being that the listener wasn't alway being hit with a sonic guitar attack at all moments. But the energy and power that we had come to expect was most definitely there.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

If anything, downplaying the guitar a little bit actually was beneficial for Soundgarden. Songs like "Slaves And Bulldozers" are given the chance to build from a mild rumble to a full-force kick in the crotch in the choruses. Hearing Cornell hit the switch vocally from mild-mannered vocalist to the pained shouts is a wonder to behold, and makes me wonder if his contributions to the whole grunge scene of the '90s were underappreciated.

The powerful attack continues with songs like "Rusty Cage," "Outshined" and what I believe was the first single "Jesus Christ Pose". However, by the end of the first half of the album, you know that something is about to change for Soundgarden. Exhibit "A": "Somewhere," a song that concetrates more on the rhythms rather than the power. Don't think for a moment that this is a throw-away song, but it does throw the listener for a momentary loop.

The second half of Badmotorfinger is a little more difficult to get through, simply because the band seems to be stuck between gears for most of it. Tracks like "Searching With My Good Eye Closed" and "Drawing Flies" seem to be polar opposites of each other, yet they share the same compact disc. They're good efforts, but they left me scratching my head, wondering what Soundgarden was up to.

Of course, once you've listened to the album a few times - and especially since the release of Superunknown and Down On The Upside - the moves heard on this half of Badmotorfinger are understandable. Soundgarden seemed to know what the rest of us would soon learn: grunge was a passing fancy, and they wanted to be known for more than being a Seattle-based band. To do this, they had to progressively shift their style. Badmotorfinger was that gradual shift.

If you're a music collector, you will want to search out the extremely-limited two-disc set of Badmotorfinger, which includes the mini-album Satan Oscillate My Metallic Sonatas (or SOMMS, as it's better known in the Soundgarden circles). I once had this disc, but wasn't very enamored of it, so I ended up selling it on eBay. The live version of "Slaves And Bulldozers" didn't quite have the power that the studio version harnessed; this song can also be found on the now out-of-print Badmotorvision home video. For the most part, SOMMS seemed to be a bit of a throwaway, including a cover of Devo's "Girl U Want". Of course, if you're a diehard Soundgarden fan, this is one of the Holy Grails you'll be searching for.

Badmotorfinger is occasionally a confusing listen, but in the end, it seems like it was the natural next step for Soundgarden to take with their career. And it's still as powerful as a punch to the face.

Rating: B+

User Rating: B+



© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of A & M Records, and is used for informational purposes only.