Badmotorfinger vs. Superunknown: Determining Which Is Soundgarden’s Definitive Album

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Alternative Nation reporter Lauryn Schaffner takes a look at Soundgarden’s two most successful albums: 1991’s Badmotorfinger and 1994’s Superunknown in a new video on our YouTube channel. Take a look at the video and let us know which one you prefer!

90’s Soundgarden photographer Kevin Westenberg recently announced on Instagram:

“SOUNDGARDEN are currently in the process of releasing the first material since Chris’s untimely passing. Turns out that the initial greatest hits collection, ‘A-Sides’ was never released on vinyl. Now that vinyl is “back”, this album on vinyl will soon be re-released. Of course this makes perfect sense especially for sound quality. Release date TBC.

Sourcing new unseen photos and refining the older photos in the original package is now under way with various images being looked at for inclusion. I went through a period 20-25 years ago where I felt that with certain artists, a black background was the purest form of expression. In my mind it was also representative of the anti-white background. This represented the opposite of commerciality, which also allowed visual focus on the artists face, expression and enhanced the dark mood of the era. The void and black space always meant more to me in my earlier works, than the parts of the photo one could see.

If there was ever a subject that would fit this prerequisite, it was Soundgarden and my vision of what Soundgarden was for me as a band. This set up was also part of the 18 hour marathon shoot at the Ok Hotel for the DOWN ON THE UPSIDE campaign. Good Times. Photo: Kevin Westenberg. #kevinwestenberg #realfilmrealwestenberg #soundgarden #chriscornell #benshepherd #kimthayil #mattcameron #hiroyamamoto #grunge #metal #love #throwback #instagram #badmotorfinger #ultramegaok #superunknown #downontheupside #asides #filmsnotdead #bw #blackandwhite #classic #goodtimes”

  • Trovoid

    I fell in love with Badmotorfinger before Superunknown but I’m not sure if I can choose.. Badmotorfinger is Chris’ vocal peak in my opinion but Superunknown is obviously an extremely diverse album (with great vocals as well). Some of my favorite songs are on Badmotorfinger but I think Superunknown was a huge accomplishment. I also feel like Down on the Upside doesn’t get enough love. It all depends on my mood. Badmotorfinger has that metal edge while Superunknown and Down on the Upside lean towards psychedelia, hooks and more focused songwriting. I think Badmotorfinger was the first Soundgarden album to show us the band’s songwriting chops, and it was the bridge between their earlier works (Screaming Life, Ultramega OK, Louder than Love) and their later works. It had a different sort of energy than their other albums. I just can’t pick a favorite.

    • Kay B

      I agree about Down on the Upside. I think the radio played songs on Superunknown weren’t fantastic as I have said before. But they were good for mainstream. Head Down is def my favorite song on that album.

      • Trovoid

        I can’t pick a favorite off of Superunknown but Head Down is a beautiful song. I LOVE Down on the Upside. Songs like Zero Chance and Overfloater really show their range as a band.

    • bonado

      Badmotorfinger = raw, dirty, instinctive
      Superunknown = sophisticated, clean, produced

      I think you can discuss this in relation to

      – Living Through this x Celebrity Skin
      – Bleach x Unplugged MTV
      – Siamese Dream x Mellon Collie
      – Wasting LIght x The Colour and the Shape

      A real good dilemma in rock music discographies.

      • Trovoid

        I hear what you’re saying. Pearl Jam did it backwards with Ten (which was polished) and then Vs was a very raw album. I think Siamese Dream is extremely polished but in a good way. Some songs on there have up to 100 guitar tracks and overdubs. Gish is definitely a bit more raw and instinctive though.

        • Corgan Cobain

          Yes, I also agree on Gish. But it does not capture the people attention in that the best album context for many fans.
          About Pearl Jam, I also agree with you. But I think “Ten” is an album based on Surf Rock. And “VS” is Grunge. In fact, in my opinion, after braving divorced from Brendan O’brien, I think they could go back to their basics with a Surf Rock record. It would be awesome.
          Only Pearl Jam and Live did that (plus a few Pixies songs).
          Hugs

          • Trovoid

            Right. I mean the songs on Siamese Dream are raw but the sound of the record is definitely polished (if not more so than Mellon Collie). I see what you’re getting at though (the pattern with bands).

            I’ve never heard someone compare Ten to surf rock.. Interesting. I don’t buy into the “grunge” label but I think the change from Ten to VS had to do with the great Dave Abbruzzese, experience in the studio already, and more spontaneity. I also think their peers influenced them to be more heavy (Soundgarden and AIC) and funky (RHCP). Ten has a lot of reverb (which may have something to do with your surf rock comparison) and was overproduced in a lot of ways. VS sounds much more like a live band. I wish PJ made another record like that but I don’t see it happening unfortunately. It’s very difficult to top the albums of youth.

          • JangleAtmo

            Ten and to an extent, Badmotorfinger(drums are compressed and quieter in mix, snare is high in reverb) were still made within the construct of 1980s production and mixing techniques. Although the reverb and gated, sampled drums aren’t nearly as prevalent as something like Motley Crue’s “Dr. Feelgood” from 1989, they’re still noticeable. Moreover, grunge bands like Mother Love Bone still used a good deal of reverb because it was a necessary selling point in a late-80s music climate.

            This is why Nirvana’s “Nevermind” was such an important album from a sonic standpoint. It was a game changer. The way it was recorded and subsequently mixed by the famous Andy Wallace introduced a whole new paradigm in rock fidelity. All instruments and vocals packed a uniform punch to the ears. The live sound of a band was polished up without losing the intensity. In my opinion, had Ten and Badmotorfinger been recorded and released after September 1991, they’d probably sound much different. I will concede that “Temple of the Dog”(recorded at end of 1990) sounded stripped down and organic for it’s time but it wasn’t the hit and staple that Nevermind was.

          • Trovoid

            Oh I know. I’ve always thought that Badmotorfinger could have sounded better, especially the drums. I feel the same about Louder than Love, which incorporates even more 80s recording techniques. Both BMF and LTL are not as bad as the original Ultramega OK mixes but they definitely suffer in ways.

            It’s funny you bring this up. I have envisioned in my mind what Badmotorfinger and Ten would have sounded like if they were recorded at Sound City with the new recording and mixing techniques taking place. It’s unfortunate that such great bands had to wait a few records to get their sound captured the way it should be, especially Soundgarden because they did all they could to avoid those dated techniques. I wonder how Matt Cameron felt at the time with the BMF drum mixes considering that on ToTD you could hear and appreciate his drumming better.

  • Rizz

    Great question. Superunknown was so unbelievably broad in scope and awesome, but Badmotorfinger is just straight up PRIMAL. Badmotorfinger for the win.

  • Mongoose

    How about releasing BADMOTORVISION on DVD

  • Billy

    BMF will always be my definitive album period. It wasn’t just a band with a singer, Cornell’s voice is like a 3rd guitar.
    The maturity of Super though cannot be diminished. After having fun along the way with songs like Little Joe, Big Dumb Sex, the goofy intro to Searching with my good eye closed, Super was them putting on their big boy pants.
    Ultimately DOTU is my fave album of theirs, but BMF showed me that music wasn’t just sound coming from a speaker, it can change your entire life

    • Trovoid

      Searching With My Good Eye Closed and Mind Riot definitely gave us a glimpse of what their later work would be like. BMF changed my life too, they really captured something there. Slaves and Bulldozers became an anthem to me.

      • Billy

        That 2nd paragraph says it all.

        But i’ve always had a love/hate relationship with Slaves. Sometimes it’s just honestly too much (in a visceral way) lol Maybe it is fitting that it is the final song he performed and what happened after that also gives me uneasiness about it.
        But after over 8 months i have started listening to SG again. The reissue of Ultramega Ok sounds like a new album, loving it

        • Trovoid

          I know what you mean. I’ve definitely wore that song out over the years and I can understand the uneasiness you may feel about it (considering the final performance). It’s definitely a classic though.

          I’m glad you’re able to listen to them again, I know how hard it can be. The Ultramega OK reissue is absolutely amazing. It really shows how strong the material on there is, the mixing and producing at the time just didn’t do it justice. I always wonder how that album would have sounded if they had recorded it with Sub Pop or someone else (I think they originally were going to re-record it back in the day but gave up on it). I enjoy the bonus tracks on there as well.