Soundgarden wallowed in near-fame for years, riding a fervent local following in the Pacific Northwest, gaining a Grammy nomination for an album that barely reached beyond their geographic base, and gaining much airplay on college radio stations across the country.
Their third full-length release,
Badmotorfinger, brought them to national awareness but
emerged amid a flood of releases by Seattle-area bands that
collectively shoved the emerging grunge movement into the faces of
the public. A huge leap in commercial success for the band, it
still was slightly eclipsed by the success of Pearl Jam's
Ten and Nirvana's Nevermind, both released around the
same time. Despite being somewhat overshadowed by these monumental
releases, it served as an important album of the time.
Nirvana had their post-punk angst and Pearl Jam offerd bluesy emo-metal, but Soundgarden was the grunge party flag-bearer for the Sabbath-Zep legacy which made it instant fodder for metalheads tired of the fading big-hair metal bands of the late 80s. Soundgarden embraced the rumbling rhythms and big riffs of heavy metal and tempered it with introspective, brainy lyrics that made it ripe fruit for alt-rock fans hungry for something heavier. Until Alice In Chains would get their due a year later, Soundgarden was the heaviest band to come out of the grunge scene at the time.
BMF was a leap forward from SG's previous work; much more controlled without losing any of the bombastic power. Their maturity shows in tighter compositions and lack of the sonic dissonance that pervaded their earlier work. From start to finish it's a grinding, rumbling trip that never lets up. Drummer Matt Cameron and bassist Ben Shepard create a thick, dense foundation for Kim Thayil's potent guitar work and Chris Cornell's manic vocal acrobatics. Case in point is the brilliant opener, "Rusty Cage." Thayil's warbling staccato guitar leads the way for the driving rhythm that carries the tune. Thayil wisely stays in the background and lets the bass drive the song.
The best known track off BMF was also a shot across the bow to the listening public. "Outshined" features the classic line that pretty much sums up the whole slacker mentality that fueled the grunge movement "I just looked in the mirror / Things aren't looking so good / I'm looking California / And feeling Minnesota."
Soundgarden is obviously best known for their next release Superunknown, but the slick polish they put on that album filters out some of the rawness you'll find on BMF. Badmotorfinger retains a lot or the raging power and brutal intensity of their early work, but more controlled songwriting and an emphasis on lyrical quality make it much more listenable and durable. To date I still feel this is their best work, and time has not tarnished its place among the critical releases of the grunge genre.
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