For the Superunknown 30th Anniversary, let’s put the seminal Soundgarden album up against the rest of the band’s wide-ranging discography.

 

But first? Historical context! Soundgarden unleashed Superunknown on the world on March 8, 1994. It’s their fourth studio album, third major-label album, and second album to be released since 1991, the year their hometown of Seattle put grunge on the map. All three of these qualifiers are important; that’s why I mentioned them. But it’s the third one that’s the most important of all.

 

By the time ’90s rock fans were flipping their Far Side calendars from 1993 to 1994, alternative rock had been the flavor of the month for a few years. Soundgarden, Nirvana and Pearl Jam all released groundbreaking albums in 1991. Alice In Chains did the same in 1992, with their sophomore release, Dirt. 1993 saw Nirvana and Pearl Jam drop big sophomore albums. But what of Soundgarden?

They waited a bit longer. And it paid off.

 

Superunknown Anniversary: Is Soundgarden’s Breakthru the Best?

That bit of extra time Soundgarden took with Superunknown (due mostly to clashes with producer Michael Beinhorn) slowed down the creative process. Whether they liked it or not, the band had more time to breathe. And the scene did, too. So by the time March of ’94 rolled around, Soundgarden were in the right place at the right time, ready to break on through with Superunknown.

 

Of the Big Four Seattle grunge bands, I’d argue Soundgarden grew the most from an evolutionary standpoint over their first decade as a band. Go back to their debut EP, 1987’s Screaming Life. The released has been described as “proto-grunge.” When I cue it up, I hear metal. Because at their nucleus, Soundgarden was always a metal band, sonically. Even as their sonic DNA combined and recombined over the years.

 

Flash forward to 1994, and Soundgarden has knitted that musical genetic material of grunge, metal, and alternative rock into an album that would yield 5 charting singles (which we’ll dive into below) over a 12-month period and go on to sell over six million copies. One of those singles, “Black Hole Sun,” would cracked the Top 25 of the Billboard Radio Songs chart. Which means Kim Thayil’s ripper of a guitar solo got played on Top 40 radio. How metal is that?

 

But is it their best album? For years, I said no. It’s always been second best to Badmotorfinger for me. But looking back now, 30 years on, I think I’m ready to let that take evolve, much like Soundgarden evolved between those two releases. Fifteen tracks of wide-ranging rock spanning 70 minutes, and not a track or a minute I don’t love. Sometimes the biggest is the best. And I believe this is one of those times.

  • "Spoonman"

    “Spoonman” was the “taster.” That’s the single that gets released before the album drops. Artist the Spoonman is still smacking his spoons on the streets of Seattle as of 2024. Bless.

  • "The Day I Tried To Live"

    Shouts to my buddy Mike Khach. Years ago, when the two of us would crank this album on his CD boombox, he realized you could pan the track hard left or hard right and hear the two intertwined guitar parts in the intro distinctly.

  • "Black Hole Sun"

    Again, I love Thayil’s guitar solo here. It’s the band’s big hit, their crossover single. And he just dumps a heavy dose of shred right on top of it. Legend.

  • "My Wave"

    If you were lucky enough to grow up listening to the radio in Boston like I did, you had three radio stations that played Soundgarden in 1994. And at least two of them played this single.

  • "Fell On Black Days"

    Fun fact: there are actually two versions of this song! This is one of them.

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