Nirvana’s Nevermind album may have brought ‘grunge’ to the masses, much to the disdain of Cobain but Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger had an advantage over their Seattle brothers, it’s the dirtiness of this album, its something Nevermind never had, yes it was a classic, but too polished, this album challenges you.
In 1991 Soundgarden had already released two records, including 1990’s ‘Louder than love’ which was full of black Sabbath riffs and metal trimmings, the band were about to discover their own unique sound, it was tighter and less gothic, especially with the addition of new bassist Ben Shepard.
Seattle in the early 90’s may have had its own ‘sound’, but the reality is all the bands sounded different, Alice in Chains sounded different to Pearl Jam, Mudhoney sounded different to Screaming Trees. The Soundgarden sound was changing, this album was the in between of ‘Louder than Love’s’ metal flirtations and the mainstream accessibility of the 1994 sales monster ‘Superunknown’, ‘Badmotorfinger ended up being the perfect bridge.
Guitarist Kim Thayil came up with the name ‘Badmotorfinger’ as a joke, after the Montrose song ‘Bad Motor Scooter’. Either way this release came within the span of three months of other great releases in late 1991, Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ and Pearl Jam’s own sales monster ‘Ten’, what a rich history in rock music in such a short timeframe.
‘Badmotorfinger’ never reached the sales numbers of the other two records and only hit 39 on the Billboard Charts but in a lot of ways it’s a much better listen. The first 4 tracks, ‘Rusty Cage’, where Ben Shepards’ bass is incredible, ‘Outshined’, ‘Slaves & Bulldozers’ and the wonderful ‘Jesus Christ Pose’ would become essential experiences at live shows for years to come, they are 4 songs that defined the energy and creative growth of the band.
I witnessed this energy at the Big Day Out in 94 from the pit, it was epic, as you’d expect. Another highlight on this record is ‘Room a thousand years wide’, a riff driven masterpiece with a great underlying wailing guitar. Then, of course there is Cornell’s voice, what can you say? If a higher being made the perfect voice for a rock band, they gave it to Chris Cornell, it truly is a gift from beyond.
The record finishes with ‘New Damage’, where Cornell sings, “the wreck is going down, get out before you drown”, the band drowned 5 years later and broke up after 1996’s ‘Down on the Upside’ but would reunite for the 2012 reunion album ‘King Animal’.
Throughout the years Cornell would form Audioslave with ex Rage against the Machine members and embark on a solo career before his devastating suicide earlier this year. I don’t play this album often but when I do it brings back great memories of a band that in 1991 was forging itself amongst the grunge elite.