1991 wasn’t the year that punk broke — it was the year that ‘grunge’ became a catch-all term for just about any white dude group with distorted guitars. The year saw the release of many big-hitters in the genre, but they were all of a different influence. Whereas Nirvana’s Nevermind would lead it’s listeners to punk and ’80s underground, Pearl Jam’s Ten led its listeners back to classic rock. Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger was a weird one though — the guitarist played a little faster than the others and the vocalist soared to the high notes and flailed them when he got up there. It left a taste of metal in the mouth. So, Soundgarden didn’t fit the grunge mold very well — they were placed in there by label executives.
Twenty-five years later, the populace gets a renewed look Soundgarden’s contribution to the year with a fully loaded reissue of their career changing Badmotorfinger. The two-CD version reviewed here contains a remastered version of the original album, demos of the entire record, and some demos of songs that didn’t make the cut. And it’s out just in time for Christmas. Do you have an uncle born between 1970 and 1975? Well, here’s your go-to present –well, unless he was into Garth Brooks at the time.
The album itself is undeniable. It doesn’t have the huge hits like as their next album Superunknown does, but it’s possibly stronger for it. It all begins with the classic guitar battle riff of “Rusty Cage”, itself a modern classic. “Outshined” opens with a riff so of its time that I had originally mistaken it for the theme of Beavis and Butthead, but the song morphs at the chorus, showing us the versatility of the group at the time. Later we get awkward horns (“Drawing Flies” and “Face Pollution”), more heavy riffage (“Room a Thousand Years Wide”), flanged-out shredding (“Holy Water”), ironic voice-overs (“Searching With My Good Eye Closed”), and Jesus Christ references (“Jesus Christ Pose”). All of these things are signifiers of their time and genre, but they don’t shine gaudily like flaked chrome paint. Overall, the album has held itself up as a solid rock record over 25 years, and that’s quite the success.
The demos are of mixed blessings, to be honest. It seems that they were pretty much just run-throughs for the sake of the album producer. The songs mostly stay the same, outside of the occasional vocal shift or guitar lead. The production is non-existent, and often Chris Cornell’s vocal performances sounded either sedated or else embryonic. For a long-time fan, though, this could be a goldmine — getting to listen to some of their favorite songs, only slightly different. Furthermore, there are some lost tracks mixed in the bunch. First, there are some demos here that did not make the album, only furthering the desires of the completionist. Lastly, and most novel, is a version of the album closer, “New Damage”, with soaring solos from Queen’s Brian May.
Twenty five years on, much of the grunge scene may not have had the momentous impact the critics were expecting, but the music still stands. BadmotorFinger is a product of its time, but it was a good time.