Soundgarden’s fifth studio album, Down on the Upside was released 20 years ago today. It’s arguably the most unique and diverse collection of songs in the Soundgarden catalog – that holds a significant place in the bands history.
Down on the Upside had the daunting task of serving as the follow-up to the incredibly successful – Superunknown. The album features many classic Soundagarden elements with eccentric guitar tunings, rare time signatures and powerful vocals, but it also shows the band taking a more progressive, exploratory approach. With layers of melody and some slower tempo songs, the record truly showcased Soundgarden’s effort to grow as songwriters. Coincidentally, it would be the last album before their 12 year hiatus.
Album Quick Facts:
• Band produced it themselves, with mixing help from Adam Kasper
• Recorded in-part at Stone Gossard’s, Studio Litho
• Touring on the record included the 1996 Lollapalooza tour with Metallica and the Ramones
• Each member contributed to the writing with Kim Thayill writing lyrics on “Never the Machine Forever”
• Soundgarden’s longest record with 16 songs
• Contained four singles; “Pretty Noose,” Burden in My Hand,” “Blow Up the Outside World,” and “Ty Cobb”
• “Pretty Noose” received a Grammy nomination for Best Hard Rock Performance
Overall, Down on the Upside is an undeniable gem in the legacy of Soundgarden. It’s a record Chris Cornell has often called his favorite and one of the bands proudest accomplishments given all the surrounding elements.
The Alternative Nation staff recently reflected on the album, with each writer detailing their favorite songs.
“Burden In My Hand” – Has always been the standout song for me. My Dad played it to death when I was a kid, and I remember seeing the video on MTV. I think Down on the Upside is overall the most well-rounded Soundgarden album. You’ve got a classic heavy Soundgarden song like “Pretty Noose,” but then more experimental songs like “Dusty” and “Zero Chance.”
“Boot Camp” – It’s really the perfect bookend to Soundgarden’s initial run, it flawlessly encapsulated Chris Cornell’s lyrical themes on the album.
“Blow Up The Outside World” – One of my favorite songs of all-time. This is a larger than life piece of art to me. “I’ve givin’ everything I need, I’d give you everything I own. I’d give in if it could at least be ours alone.” Everyone can somehow relate to that, but it felt like Cornell was the only one courageous enough to say it. Lyrically, each word or phrase carries such meaning. “Burrow Down??!!” I think the world actually does blow up during the jaw-dropping bridge. Blow it to hell and gone…
“Zero Chance” – It’s just so melodic. I find a unique juxtaposition where it feels overly emotional with some sad lyrics, but you find comfort in the vulnerability. This was also a stand-out track as far as – a different type of Soundgarden song.
“Pretty Noose” – I gravitated towards this song after seeing Soundgarden play it on Saturday Night Live. I was a diehard Jim Carrey fan (still think it’s one of the best SNL episodes in history), yet this performance had the punch to carry the whole show. – (see what I did there?) 1,2,3,4,5,6 — Yeaaaahhhh.
“Rhinosaur” – With emphasis on certain beats throughout the song it stands out and becomes the heaviest and most powerful track on this album. I also like the pressure Cornell puts on his voice, and there’s a really cool and unexpected guitar solo towards the end.
“Ty Cobb” – It’s a gut punch of a song that harkens back to the band’s days playing hole in the wall Seattle venues, with over the top lyrics to boot.
“Blow Up the Outside World” – A different type of track that Soundgarden hadn’t done up until Down on the Upside. “Blow Up the Outside World” builds to an explosion from verse one to the chorus and the highlight for me is the way Cornell’s searing voice cuts through the melody. It still gives me chills 20 years later.