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Soundgarden – A-Sides

June 15, 2006

As Sub-Pop founder Jonathan Poneman says in the liner notes of Soundgardens greatest hits collection “A-Sides,” it is a little ridiculous to even attempt to make such a collection. In 1997 when this collection was released, the band just got done with an extremely varied career spanning about ten years, and the disk does summarize this time fairly well, considering that a balance does need to be made. In the earlier reaches of Soundgardens musical library, most of the tracks, even the more accessible ones, are hard rocking trance inducing grunge. They were the first grunge band to get onto a major label anyway, but even so, it’s hard to pick out the better tracks from the era when all of their material could be favorites by different people. And it is also hard to pick out the best material from Badmotorfinger and Superunknown, when it could be argued that all of the songs were hits and worthy of making it onto the disc. But without the nitpicking, this is a pretty good collection, demonstrating a lot of the greatest moments from one of modern rocks greatest bands.

The first order of business for a Greatest Hits collection of Soundgarden would be to sift through the bands older releases and find the material with the best hooks, most radio play, and most accessible nature. Once again, this timeframe still shows Soundgarden as a more underground band, concentrating on the hypnotic riffing and sludgey sound that founded grunge. But even then, I can’t really understand why Nothing To Say was included here. It’s a good song, yes, but from the early EPs of the band, it’s not the strongest track, and as far as I know, it didn’t get the most radio play. Its a slow moving track that sort of opens up the more and more you listen to it. Of course we have Flower from Ultramega OK, which is a smarter choice than it’s predecessor, mostly because it shows that the band still had a lot of room to develop and branch out into more psychedelic type songs. The beat here is marchable, and the guitar part is a combination of classic alternative rock and an almost eastern swirl from riff-master and guitar god Kim Thayil.

Then we move on to the development stages of the band, where the albums get a little less consistant, but the stronger tracks only keep getting better. Loud Love is a keeper, deffinitely, and it actually sort of plays like Nothing To Say in some ways, in that it is a very rugged tune. As far as the sound goes, you can tell that the band is at least thinking about taking some of the echo off of frontman Chris Cornells voice, and almost wants to push it out in the front just a tad more, but it just isn’t quite ready yet. Which actually makes this an essential track, because it is still a really kick ass song anyway, and it really does capture that transitional sound. Next is the fan favorite and sort of breakthrough hit Hands All Over. It broods with the psychedelic openness of Flower and also the hard rocking sound of Loud Love, and it actually puts the two worlds together really well. It also has the laser precision of some of the bands later material, and just like Loud Love, captures the band in a fantastic album of change, actually talking about something serious in todays world. This is just a great example of how the grunge movement strived to be sort of like the new counterculture, but this time wouldn’t let themselves be pushed around. Get On The Snake is also another really good one, but probably could have been sacrificed for Full on Kevin’s Mom.

And then of course we have some tunes from Badmotorfinger, the album that really put the band on the map in 1991, along with Pearl Jam and Nirvana. But the tracks are put in reverse order, which is kind of strange, but is deffinitely okay, because Jesus Christ Pose is the real ass kicker to complement the sound of the earlier stuff. But with this song, everything is just better than the earlier stuff. The production is ten times better on Badmotorfinger than it was on Ultramega OK and Louder Than Love, and it doesn’t get much more clearer that grunge is angry than in this song. Outshined is another essential, because of the sheer skill involved in making that hook and complementing it with an optimistic bassline and an outwardly happy beat. And of course there is Rusty Cage, with it’s progressive shredding, but that track was always an essential anyway, so there was no arguement that it would be included here. Unfortunately, a fourth track is not presented from Badmotorfinger.

Like one is on Superunknown. The album is almost obviously the bands best album, and considering almost every song on it was a radio hit to some degree, it’s really hard to pick out the absolute best. But the ones that made it were the vastly popular Spoonman, the trudging groove of The Day I Tried To Live, the beautiful Black Hole Sun, and the sad Fell On Black Days. The selections from this album are a little strange, I’ll admit. All four of these songs are great, but the debatable ones are The Day I Tried To Live and Fell On Black Days. Fell On Black Days is the more acceptable of the two, but the fact that My Wave and Head Down aren’t here is kind of disheartening. Actually, one could make a pretty big case for Superunknown and Limo Wreck too. But once again, almost everything on Superunknown is essential.

And finally we have stuff from Down on the Upside, the bands last album. Listening to this album lets the listener know that Soundgarden is really changing again, but still hasn’t ran out of good ideas. Pretty Noose is a great song to include here, and actually so is the raging throwback to days of old Ty Cobb. And of course we have Burden In My Hand, an absolutely fantastic song. But I just never understood Blow Up the Outside World. It just doesn’t seem to go anywhere. In my opinion, this one could have been dumped for a better song on Badmotorfinger, maybe Mind Riot. But hey, it seems to be a crowd favorite, so even if I don’t get it, someone does. But Badmotorfinger is just a better album than Down on the Upside, and should have gotten more coverage. Simple as that.

And then the album ends with Bleed Together, a great unreleased song that will probably act as the incentive for fans to buy this collection, unless they don’t have Nothing To Say which comes from one of the bands earlier and rarer EPs. Anyway, there are a few problems with this disk, but they can be pretty easily overlooked. Don’t get me wrong, everything on here is good. But once again, it’s really hard to outline the bands entire career. And with that, A-Sides does a very good job. But please, if you were interested enough in the band in the first place, don’t stop here. If you are a casual fan, you are going to really want this for an accurate summary of the bands earlier and later stuff, but you will also really want Badmotorfinger and Superunknown, because there are only one or two bad songs total on both albums put together. This is a very good collection, for what it is.

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