Easily Soundgarden's best.
Aron Hsiao | New York, New York | 05/18/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I own every full-length Soundgarden release, but Down on the Upside is without a doubt the best of them. To understand its greatness, one must look at their earlier work.
Soundgarden's early work on Sub Pop and SST certainly stands on its own as genre fare but isn't as accessible and therefore isn't always as listenable as their major-label releases; Badmotorfinger, Soundgarden's first, was a brilliant album technically and lyrically but is really a 'one mood' album which seems to paint itself into a corner fairly quickly; Superunknown, their second, was a commercial smash hit and has some nice tunes, but is a little too easy and too overproduced, weaker than Badmotorfinger artistically and radio-friendly enough that the ultimate 'conversation' gets lost beneath the gloss and the hooks.
Down on the Upside, on the other hand, is an absolutely stunning, mature album. Down on the Upside covers lots of ground -- from post-punk aggro to trippy, swaying, sighing laments to hook-laden, heavy Seattle-esque grooves that easily outshine the best hooks on Superunknown -- and each new note is easily taken in stride. It is on Down on the Upside that Soundgarden finally sound like veteran, established musicians. Production is perfect for the material -- showcasing Thayil's sunlight-tinged riffs and Cornell's voice while managing to stay loose and natural, not forced or clinical as their earlier major-label releases (especially Superunknown) could sometimes sound.
I find Down on the Upside to be reminiscent of Faith No More's Angel Dust, Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti or Sonic Youth's Washing Machine -- all are albums which demonstrate a kind of confident, relaxed subtlety and mastry that can take your breath away. They are the albums on which you feel like you can really hear what the band is saying to you...
In my original review, I said that I wouldn't name any favorite tracks because the entire CD is excellent. However, after reading another review about tracks that supposedly "fall flat" I've decided to edit my review and name my three favorite tracks on the disc. Zero Chance is achingly ennui-laden and has two of the best lines ever in rock music; if you loved the Pumpkins' Mayonaise or STP's Still Remains then Zero Chance might make you cry (or drink) as well. Switch Opens is lovely also, hinting at the incredible untapped genre-expanding potential posessed by Soundgarden, something that has unfortunately probably been lost to us. Finally, Boot Camp, the last track on the CD... is absolutely stunning... dreary... devastating... deceptive in the allusion everywhere in the song to some kind of hope... that is never found. Three minutes long, but feeling like only ten or fifteen seconds, Boot Camp may be the ultimate summary of Soundgarden's career, of the '90s and grunge as a whole, even of the entire post-Vietnam era. I own nearly a thousand CDs but I've never heard anything like it before or since: "There must be something else... must be something good... far away... far away from here... far away... far away..."
It's a lyric and a line outside of time, a thought outside of history. It is anthropology and praxis rolled into one. It makes your hair stand on end, makes you close your eyes and swallow.
Those are my favorites on the disc.
But (my closing remains the same), this is a disc that tells its story best as a whole, from beginning to end. Don't miss one of these gems for years because you happen to hit skip the first time you listen and then never manage to stop..."
Gets better with repeated listenings.
T. Avallone | St Charles IL | 07/04/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Compared to other Soundgarden albums, this one tends to be more raw and bass-heavy than others. It also tends to be a bit more slower and psychodelic than its predicessors, which is why it will take you 3-4 times to really get used to the feel of this release. I honestly didnt care for DOWN ON THE UPSIDE that much after its first two listenings, but being a hardcore Soundgarden fan, I HAD to give it another chance.....And Im glad I did.PRETTY NOOSE is your typical radio-friendly type of rock with its upbeat tempo, but after that, Chris Cornell & Company take you on a journey through psychadelic songs (BLOW UP THE OUTSIDE WORLD, APPLEBITE, SWITCH OPENS), a punk song (TY COBB), acoustic laidened tracks (BURDEN IN MY HAND and ZERO CHANCE) and my favorite track, NO ATTENTION has the energy and brutality to leave you wanting more.After listening to the solo release of Chris Cornell, I can see why Soundgarden broke up...This is truely a release that was done completely as a band. You have slower, emotional songs (BOOT CAMP) and heavy rockers (RHINOSAUR) all in the same breath...A very good final studio recording by the best band in the 90s. Just give it a chance."
The Definitive End of the Grunge Age
T. Avallone | 05/15/1999
(4 out of 5 stars)
"DOWN ON THE UPSIDE is the finale album from one of the Seattle Three that typified the Grunge Age (Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and Nirvanna) - and can be seen as the swan song of Grunge itself. It eschews the vaguely Zepplinish angle of its predecessor SUPERUNKNOWN, in favor of a raw, up-front approach that befits its genre.First and foremost in its songs are straight rock like "Pretty Noose" or "Rhinosaur" (the former has an almost Tool-like sound - think "Undertow"). But this album has another side. Songs like "Zero Chance" "Burden in My Hand" and "Switch Opens" are largely acoustic, and keep the album from grating. or becoming too monotonous. The former two, in particular, are wonderful in their simplicity and heartfelt lyrics. The latter is done in a very strange rhythm that gives it a catchy, experimental feel. On the note of experiment, there is "Applebite", a five-minutes-odd song that seems to be built from third or fourth-generation recordings. "Ty Cobb" is an angry song that is its own chapter in the album. It begins with 22 seconds of peaceful acoustic music and then, with absolutely no warning, lunges into punk at breakneck speed. Strangely enough, one can hear a banjo or mandolin somewhere in the mix, about halfway through the song, that gives it a sarcastic tinge of folk.The album builds up to "Tigher and Tighter", which is probably the conceptual peak of the album. From there we find several angles ("No Attention", a song of loathing, and "Overfloater", which rails against dismal, sluggish apathy).However, in my opinion, the high point of the album is "An Unkind", a protest against the pathetic viciousness of the majority of mankind. The album closes out with "Boot Camp", a plea for nonconformity that is at once wistful and sad.All in all, DOWN ON THE UPSIDE is a fitting and worthy end to the age of Grunge, an age that had far more highlights, I might add, than our current one."