Soundgarden - Telephantasm
Abbas Ali 29/10/2010
The 80s is so over. With threats of a 90s revival in the offing , a retrospective compilation of newly reunited Soundgarden, one of the leading lights of Seattle's grunge scene, makes perfect sense. Oh, and lead singer Chris Cornell's dubious venture with Timbaland is probably something he wants to leave behind him as quickly as possible.
The early 90s scene that saw bands such as Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, and of course, Nirvana explode onto the international stage with their distinctive brand of morose, introspective rock sold millions of albums and made household names out of Nirvana in particular. On this side of the Atlantic, band such as Soundgarden didn't however match the popularity of the Kurt Cobains band, despite having some amazing songs, as this collection shows.
Where Nirvana took their cue from punk music and bands like Mudhoney, and Pearl Jam took their earnest song writing from Neil Young, Soundgarden's background is clearly steeped in the hairy chest of heavy metal, of the Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath variety. The bass heavy riffs of the band and the primeval yelp of Cornell on songs like 'Rusty Cage' and 'Jesus Christ Pose' owes a great deal to Jimmy Page and Robert Plant respectively.
Lyrically they eschew the hippy Tolkienesque weirdness and casual misogyny of Plant's lyrics for something of more substance. That is with the exception of early material such as 'Get On The Snake' and 'Big Dumb Sex', which would not be out of place on a Spinal Tap setlist. The latter contains the immortal lyrics “I'm the beast and you're the master / You're the meat of the matter”, which are reminiscent of the mighty Taps numbers 'Sex Farm' and 'Big Bottom', but without the irony.
Such material was however before the early 90s success and maturity of the band, formed in 1984. Grunge was different from 80s metal in eschewing misogyny, instead according women with respect and equality. As a result such wondrous couplets mysteriously drop out of sight on CD2 of this compilation, where many of their later mainstream hits, such as 'Black Hole Sun' and 'Spoonman' reside. Accordingly, the second CD does cut back on leather pants and hairy chest antics of the first CD, replacing it with more of a pop sensibility.
On the whole , this is a pleasing compilation which serves as an excellent introduction to one of the most important US bands of the 90s, and it's one which improves as it goes forward.