What a voice — as a physical instrument it had elasticity and power. Not many rock baritones could boast such gifts. In Soundgarden, Chris Cornell also brought the charisma of a front man who’d studied his seventies rock god manuals, including, to my ears, lots of Bowie; for all the Zeppelin comparisons, Bowie was the secret sharer of nineties rock (see: the late Scott Weiland). 1991’s Badmotorfinger remains one of the denser American albums released that decade, as I saw on the Lollapalooza tour the following year when in Florida’s punishing heat the band tore through “Rusty Cage” and “Outshined.” Even better was 1994’s Superunknown, on which Cornell’s obsessions with mortality stirred Kim Thayil into writing his most intricate riffs and the rhythm section of Matt Cameron and Ben Shepherd boogeying longer and tougher than expected; as sheer sonic experiences “Spoonman” and “My Wave” flatten anything by Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains.
I no longer own Badmotorfinger, while I treasure Superunknown. A long resident of CD cutout bins, Down on the Upside would have impressed the hell out of more fans had it been released instead of Superunknown. But 1996 was the year of the grunge backlash, and while I never understood grunge as subgenre or portmanteau, Soundgarden rode that wave. I didn’t pay attention to them or Cornell as the Clinton era waned: not the solo albums, experiments with electronics — there’s an essay to be written about American musicians who came of age in the nineties later experimenting with electronics as if given the combination to a safe filled with poisonous, shameful things — or Audioslave. And I haven’t mentioned Temple of the Dog, a project dominated by Cornell for which many friends have a deeper attachment than the rest of his catalog.
If this rumor is true, then “Fell on Black Days” and “Like Suicide” proved prophetic.