Soundgarden: Telephantasm


Emerging from the damp, cold North-Western corner of the United States in the late 80s, Grunge was supposed to emulate what Punk had done in the mid 1970s and kill off the genre of guitar-based rock, considered bloated and asinine, that had immediately preceded it. The likes of the Stooges and the Clash had dealt Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Yes et al a fatal blow, and Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden would similarly marginalise hair metal bands such as Mötley Crüe and Skid Row and usher in a new decade of more downbeat, austere rock.

Fast forward some fifteen years and you will find prog, punk, hair metal and grunge bands existing harmoniously in the virtual worlds of Guitar Hero and Rock Band. The two videogames have helped spark a renaissance of guitar-based rock from each of the past five decades, and as a result itís not exactly a surprise to see a rash of long-dormant bands reforming and record companies capitalising on this boom with rereleases of classic albums.

After recording five studio albums between 1988 and 1996, Soundgarden went their separate ways in 1997, with singer Chris Cornell later joining three quarters of Rage Against the Machine in Audioslave, and also finding time to release three solo albums while drummer Matt Cameron joined fellow Grunge acolytes Pearl Jam. In early 2010, the four members of the bandís classic line-up announced that they were reforming for a number of live shows, and providently, a collection of their singles, available as both a single disc and double disc with DVD package, Telephantasm has followed.

However, itís difficult to gauge who exactly this retrospective is aimed at as Soundgarden were hardly renowned as a singles band during their first incarnation and subsequently donít have too many hit songs that would appeal to the casual fan. When you factor in 1997ís perfectly adequate singles collection titled, er, Singles, and the fact they havenít recorded anything since, this compilation seems slightly superfluous (Singles also features the excellent ĎThe Day I Tried to Liveí, not present here).

Soundgardenís most notable song is, of course, ĎBlack Hole Suní, the bandís Ďone-that-everyone-knowsí. It was ubiquitous in the summer of 1994, although itís not wholly representative of the bandís sound, for the majority of their first three albums at least. A more mellow, blissed-out and melodic avenue for the band, casual listeners may find themselves bemused by the howling guitars and vocals that inform so many of the songs on this collection, particularly those originally released earlier in the bandís career. Still, with the newly reformed band apparently not intending to record any new material in the near future, this collection will serve as a neat encapsulation of Soundgardenís singular adventures to date.

As previously mentioned, with classic rock never being more in vogue as it is now, it does make a certain amount of sense for a rerelease of material from any band undergoing a revival, and there are enough rare and alternate versions on the two disc set to appeal to completists.  However, in these days of iTunes and Spotify, and with a previously issued compilation featuring a similar tracklisting, it remains to be seen what business Telephantasm will do. That all said, if youíre interested in exploring a band from the Seattle scene that never quite managed the same commercial and even critical success as their peers, this CD might be just the starting point youíre looking for.

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