Down on the Upside
Released May 21st, 1996
(all music/words written by C. Cornell, except where noted)
Rhinosaur (music by M. Cameron)
Zero Chance (music by B. Shepherd)
Dusty (music by B. Shepherd)
Ty Cobb (music by B. Shepherd)
Blow Up the Outside World
Burden In My Hand
Never Named (music by B. Shepherd)
Applebite (music by M. Cameron)
Never the Machine Forever (music/words by K. Thayil)
Tighter & Tighter
Switch Opens (music by B. Shepherd)
An Unkind (music/words by B. Shepherd)
Jerry Garcia's Finger (music by C. Cornell, B. Shepherd, M. Cameron, K. Thayil)
A Splice of Space Jam (music by C. Cornell, B. Shepherd, M. Cameron, K. Thayil)Who Did What:
Chris Cornell - vocals, guitar, mandolin/mandola (Ty Cobb), rhodes (Overfloater)
Kim Thayil - lead guitar
Ben Shepherd - bass, mandolin/mandola (Ty Cobb)
Matt Cameron - drums, percussion, Moog synth (Applebite)Others:
Adam Kasper - piano (Applebite)
Soundgarden's King Animal
came out a few weeks ago, as I've explained several hundred times to several hundred different people, I don't like the new record. Yet. I figured I'd tell about another record that I didn't like at first:Down on the Upside
is one of those records that I can remember exactly where I was the first time I heard anything from it. It was 1996, and I was fresh out of high school and living the dream working midnights at a gas station. "Pretty Noose" was playing on the radio behind the counter late one night. I had been chomping at the bit to hear the new Soundgarden record, as I'd become an obsessive fan when Superunknown
came out in 1994. My initial reaction was that I didn't care for it. Something was missing. Superunknown has a dark undercurrent that runs through it; some sort of malevolence that threatens to consume you. "Pretty Noose" didn't have that. I don't know why, but it didn't sit well with me. Mainstream radio being what it was (and still is), I heard "Pretty Noose" about 18,000 times before I even bought the record. The single for "Rhinosaur" was another one that got played to death on the radio. For some reason, "Blow Up the Outside World" and "Burden in My Hand" received little radio play, at least during midnight shifts. It was those two songs that influenced my decision to finally buy the record. I listened to it several times throughout the rest of that year, and then left it on my shelf for a long, long time.
Over the following decade, I tried several times to get into Down On the Upside
, but something was missing. Then, one day in February, 2005, me, my girlfriend at the time, and another friend were on our way back from seeing Helmet in Minneapolis. I had brought the record along just in case and on a whim, I put it on. I don't know if was planetary or synaptic alignment, but I fell madly in love with the record. It has rarely left my side ever since.
My theory is this:
When I was younger, I could relate more to the energy created by Superunknown
. It had a vibe that connected perfectly with my teenage/early 20s mind; that blind confidence that you experience during the transition from teenager to adult.
In my late 20s, closing in on 30, Down On the Upside
suddenly made sense. It has that world-weary air about it; the sound of battle-hardened warriors returning from combat, they've seen it all and it wasn't that great and now they have to put their lives back together and move on. You can feel the sense of frustration, confusion and exhaustion in each track. This isn't to say that it lacks any sort of intensity or excitement. Give "Ty Cobb" or "Never the Machine Forever" a spin and see how long you're able to sit still. "Ty Cobb" was a regular part of any playlist I made for skate/snowboarding. The chorus, "hard-headed, fuck you all!" is about as punk as you're going to get, and has started many of my days on the right foot.
I think Ben Shepherd's influence on the band can best be heard on Down On the Upside
. While Cameron has always been the experimental one, Cornell the melancholic-pop one, and Thayil the metal one, Shepherd comes from another dimension. He somehow managed to bridge the strengths of the other three members and then build on that. I don't know how he does it, but I give him full credit for how Down On the Upside
turned out. He's like the maddest genius in a room full of mad geniuses.
Personally, I'd nominate Down On the Upside for best Soundgarden album, over Superunknown
. There's more variety on Down On the Upside
, the playing is more mature, and you can even still get that dark undercurrent if you just surrender yourself to the record. I think a good example would be to compare the song "The Day I Tried to Live" from Superunknown
, and "Zero Chance" from Down On the Upside
. Both songs are filled to overflowing with melancholic angst, and both are slow and beautiful and make me reaffirm my desire to live for a while longer. But "The Day I Tried To Live" seems like a younger person's grievance with the world, whereas "Zero Chance" feels more like coming out the other side scathed, scarred, but determined.
"Switch Opens", and "Overfloater" are two absolute gems that are tucked away near the end of the record. Both songs appealed to me right away when I picked up the record and have remained two of my favorite Soundgarden songs ever since.
Any doubts you have regarding whether or not Down On the Upside
is Soundgarden's crowning achievement should be put to rest with "Tighter and Tighter", and "Boot Camp". The two most haunting pieces of music the Cornell has ever put to tape. "Tighter and Tighter" is this gigantic monolith imposting its will on the populace below, drowning out anything and everything, grabbing your brain, laying you down, and pulling your last breath from your lungs. As for "Boot Camp", the lyrics say it all:
"I must obey the rules,
I must be tame and cool.
No staring at the clouds,
I must stay on the ground.
In clusters of the mice,
The smoke is in our eyes.
Like babies on display,
Like angels in a cage.
I must be pure and true,
I must contain my views.
There must be something else,
There must be something good,
Far away, far away from here,
But I'll be here for good."