Vinyl/CD Review: Soundgarden – Superunknown Re-Releases
Superunknown was first released in March of 1994, during the absolute pinnacle of grunge rock. Both In Utero by Nirvana and Pearl Jam’s Vs. had come out the year before to massive critical acclaim (and in the case of Pearl Jam, massive commercial appeal the likes of which rock has rarely seen before or since). And Alice In Chains were still in the productive era of their existence, releasing the EP Jar Of Flies, which would go on to be the best-selling of EP ever. Even grunge also-rans like The Toadies and Bush were finding mainstream success that year. 1992 might have been the year grunge broke, but 1994 was the year it broke big.
It was also the year that Soundgarden broke big, moving from their status as other (other) grunge band to bonafide superstars. Superunknown was a massive success for the group, selling over three million albums in the states alone; earning them widespread critical appeal and even three Grammys in the process. That being said, it’s probably one of the most underrated records of all time. I say that it’s underrated because, while the album was a pretty big deal when it came out back in 1994, who the hell still talks about it now?
Sadly, I feel that you could say that about a lot of great albums of the grunge era (Nevermind notwithstanding of course). But while talk of Pearl Jam’s Ten or Alice In Chain’s Dirt isn’t as strong as it used to be, both those albums (and bands) still have incredibly vocal fans who will exclaim the virtues of those records to this day. The same can’t be said about Superunknown, or Soundgarden as a whole for that matter. I guess they lack the devoted cult fanbase that can come from either non-stop touring or having your lead singer die young. No doubt that Soundgarden planned these deluxe editions of Superunknown to help remedy this problem, and while its great to see that the re-release has given the record some much needed attention, the extras on the more extravagant editions of the record probably won’t to much to enhance its legacy. The new re-release of Superunknown comes in four flavors. a bare-bones single CD version with no bonus cuts, 2 CD deluxe edition, a 5 disc super-deluxe edition, and a 2LP vinyl edition. For the purposes of this review I will just be looking at the super deluxe edition and the 2LP edition, as those are the ones I bought. As you can probably guess, the 5 disc version is the one with the most content, with three CDs of bonus material and an added blu-ray featuring an uncompressed 5.1 surround mix of the album proper. That’s a lot of material, and while the idea of 5 discs of Superunknown sounds great on paper, the truth is that there just isn’t enough material here to justify it.
Things start off okay though, with a great bonus disc of live cuts, b-sides and other rarities. The live take of “Kickstand” is fiery and intense, and it’s also great to hear a live versions of Badmotorfinger standard “Jesus Christ Pose.” The b-sides are also great, and will placate many fans who can finally get rid of their Songs From The Superunknown EP and various CD singles now that these cuts are all together in one place. Nothing but good stuff on this disc. But the second two CDs are little more than demo versions and rehearsals. And while those might be interesting from a historical or production standpoint, but they really don’t make for great listening, amounting to two discs worth of little more than needless filler that most people will never listen to more than once.
The mastering is problematic as well. Although not catastrophically compressed like many other recent remasters, it is needlessly louder than the original release was, losing a good deal of dynamic range in the process. It’s not a game-breaker and, to be honest, I can barely hear a difference between the two masters, but to those who are bothered by this sort of thing, it will probably be a source of annoyance. I assume the 5.1 mix on the Blu-ray isn’t as compressed, but as I don’t have a 5.1 system nor the means to rip the audio to examine it, I really can’t judge it.
As for the vinyl release, it’s a standard affair. 2LPs of black wax in a nice gatefold package with a better-than-average booklet included. The records sound just fine to me, as does the download code, which is a vinyl rip. One downside to the vinyl is that it doesn’t include any of the bonus tracks that even the 2CD edition has. I get that they couldn’t fit all of those tracks on 2LPs (Superunknown is a LONG record), it would have been nice to include them as a digital download bonus or something. This vinyl costs a pretty penny. As it stands now, vinyl fans who want the bonus tracks will be forced to double-dip and buy another version of the album as well.
Superunknown remains as great an album as ever, with its one-of-a-kind combination of heavy metal, grunge rock and even psychedelia sounding just as fresh and unique now as it did 20 years ago. If you’ve never heard the album in full before, you owe it to yourself to pick up some version of this. I highly recommend picking up the 2CD deluxe edition. It includes the great second disc from the super deluxe edition, while foregoing the needless extra two CDs of demos and other filler. I can only recommend the super deluxe edition of the album if you’re a die-hard fan who needs to hear the album in 5.1 surround sound. Additionally, since the vinyl copy is lacking even the most basic bonus tracks, I can only halfheartedly recommend that for vinyl junkies only.
Now how about a proper re-release of Badmotorfinger with b-sides, live cuts and the long out-of-print Satanoscillatemymetallicsonatas EP? They cover Devo on that. That’s dope.