Assorted scribblings of a dog-eared music journalist

Melody Maker | Sidelines | 7 October 1989


“We signed with A&M about eight months ago, at around the same time our ‘Ultramega OK’ album was released by SST. We’d been talking to A&M for a couple of years, and they’d already heard ‘Ultramega OK’ and were interested in many of the tracks on there. They had to trust us to come up with other material that was of an equal standard.”

Previously under the aegis of both SST and Sub Pop – and at one point contracted to three record companies at once – Seattle’s Soundgarden have now released “Louder Than Love”, their debut album on a major label. It’s sure to have surpassed the wildest hopes of their new masters. “Louder Than Love” is a far superior LP to Soundgarden’s previous records, all but a couple of the songs revealing the kind of heights and depths merely hinted at with “Ultramega OK”.

“We’ve certainly had lots of fresh ideas in the last few months,” says singer Chris Cornell. “There’s also the fact that the new album is better produced than anything we’ve done before and there are none of the wet, sloppy mixes that were on the first LP. The title ‘Louder Than Love’ is meant to be both powerful and thought provoking. I mean, big deal, how loud is love? It’s impossible to say what love is in the first place. No two people have the same definition.”

As well as the dynamic quality of their music and the fact that they're starting to get attention from the metal press, the band’s lyrics often exhibit a laudable intelligence. If they are sometimes guilty of intemperance, they are also capable of an unbridled sensuality and there are multi-coloured dreams alongside the dark fears. There’s also a sense of the absurd. Chris Cornell’s claim that the band will soon stop playing live and simply sell holograms of themselves – “A safe performance, parallel to the idea of safe sex” – should not be taken too lightly. Soundgarden demonstrate an altogether different kind of grandeur. They play a different kind of game. Take “Big Ugly Sex”.

“That song is a parody of the sexual innuendos of disco records,” says Cornell. “Instead of beating about the bush, I decided to be bold, to actually come out and say, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna fuck’. I guess it was good to get it out of my system so that I’ll never write something like that again. I think that’s maybe also true of ‘Gun’. That song isn’t about sex, it’s not a penis fixation song, but it is certainly very direct. It’s basically saying how there are days when I want to grab some rich broker and rip his head off.”

The brutal power of “Big Ugly Sex” and “Gun” is partly redressed by the environmental concerns expressed in “Hands All Over” and the mischief of “Fall On Kevin’s Mom”, the true story of a young man with a fatal attraction for his best friend’s mother. “I Awake”, meanwhile, completely upsets the balance. The lyrics exhibit a melancholic sensitivity. It’s a real lover’s rock song.

“To be honest, most of lyrics seem like a big smear to me. Sometimes they’re a bit surreal, sometimes they’re a bit cynical, and a little of that small town negativity comes and goes. I guess we don’t generally deal with happy subjects. Something like ‘Get On The Snake’, which is simply a road song written on tour, is about as happy as you’re gonna get from us. We’d never do a ‘Born In The USA’, the sort of song you are supposed to get up and be proud to.”

Since “Louder Than Love” was recorded, bassist Hiro Yamamoto has left the band because he disliked the increasingly heavy workload – “He wasn’t into the idea of being contractually required to create, so he’s gone back to his old job as a bicycle mechanic” – and has been replaced by Jason Everman. Everman is formerly the second guitarist with Nirvana, the Sub Popsters who cite Soundgarden as a major influence.

“We auditioned lots of people, jamming with them rather than playing actual songs, and Jason was the only one who really clicked with us. Seattle musicians seem to play different to everyone else, they seem to have their own, often unusual approach to an instrument, instead of having taken on board particular influences. Maybe it’s because of the location of the city, the fact that we are surrounded by mountains and cut off from the rest of America.”

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