Superunknown [20th Anniversary Box Set]

sgunknownOne can’t deny Soundgarden’s landmark album Superunknown as one of the crown jewels of the 1990’s. With singles such as “Black Hole Sun,” “Spoonman” and “The Day I Tried To Live,” the band were legends in their own right as they became radio giants and arena juggernauts that would go on to inspire throngs of new bands. With the 20th anniversary of the disc the band decided to commemorate the album with a massive box set chock full of previously unreleased demos, rehearsals, and live cuts showcasing the albums humble origins.

If you’re like me, you’ve owned this album for as long, or almost as long as it’s been released to the masses and, needless to say you’re somewhat sick of some or all of the songs by now. Luckily, the remaster process gives fans the chance to almost hear these songs again as if it were the first time. A great remaster will herald new sounds and an experience that brings you back to that first time you listened to the album with fresh ears. Great examples of this can be made with the reissued/remastered albums that both Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins have been putting out the past few years that have been worth every cent. However I cannot say the same for Soundgarden’s venture into this territory as Superunknown seems to fall into the same trap that much of today’s music seems to suffer from; drums drowned out to lose punch, and a mix that only sees audio levels boosted to the point of distorting at times.

More so, to get what is considered the ‘full experience’ of the remaster you are encouraged to download a special app for your iOS or Android device to play the album through. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure that the average music fan listens to music through a home CD player, in their car, or through their computer’s speaker monitors.

Disc 2 is a lot more interesting with the alternate mix of “The Day I Tried to Live” actually being much better than the one we have all come to know and love over the past 20 years. The Steve Fisk Alternate mix of “Spoonman” almost has a club/DJ vibe to it at times and is focused on the more percussive spoon element found in the songs bridge then the power chord riff that usually drives the song. After that, Fisks’ remix is over a minute of Artis the Spoonman doing his thing before taking all sorts of twists and turns chopping the song up to create something that I can only describe as a drunken tribesman with a boom box.

As far as the live tracks are concerned, the band definitely picked the more choice cuts here. Unlike the Live at I-5 EP released a few years back where the vocals were somewhat of a train wreck, Cornell is in fine form here, still able to hit those godlike notes he has become so known for on “Beyond The Wheel” and the classic noise and purposeful messiness in “Jesus Christ Pose” that has been missing from today’s live shows. The acoustic cut of “Like Suicide” is actually quite beautiful, but unreleased songs like the caveman thump of “Exit Stonehenge” and “Kyle Petty, Son of Richard” makes you fully understand after one listen why they were never included on any of the bands official full-lengths.

The unreleased Demos on disc 3 are a delight as these raw, low-fi takes of loveable tracks like the snaky “Let Me Drown” and “Superunknown” remind you that even godlike supergroups can sound like a garage band when fleshing out a masterpiece. Hearing Cornell pluck out the intro to “Black Hole Sun” however attests to just how much the songs strength relies on lead guitarist Kim Thayil’s warbly melodies to drown out the unsettling nature of Cornell’s clean guitar lines.  The crushing heaviness of “4th of July” is a true testament to how much bands of the nu-metal generation owe to band like Soundgarden who, I’m sorry, did that ground shaking dirge first.

Disc 4 however delves further into the creative process of the band with these unreleased live rehearsal demos – 9 of the 15 would actually turn into songs that made the album. “Bing Bing Goes to Church” is just the deadpan kind of humor fans expect from the band in this basement cut, meanwhile even in an early stage “Half” still has an amazing strength to it, as does the brooding “Head Down” and the Zeppeliny “Limo Wreck.”

I’m not even going to go into the 5.1 audio mix of the album as I don’t own a Blu-Ray player and, honestly, how many of us have an upgraded home theater system just so we can get that movie theatre feeling in our living room? Aside from all of that, odds are if you are even thinking of plunking down a hundred dollars on this 5-disc box set you have to be a mega fan who will actually want to listen to these alternate takes, demos and rehearsals more than once. Let’s face the facts, the casual listener will most likely listen once and most likely never listen again to these tracks that die-hards would consider priceless pieces of the bands history. –Matthew Pashalian

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