Out There

Singles going steady
Down on the Upside
A&M Records

Superunknown wasn't a consistently great album, but every time you heard a single on the radio, Soundgarden managed to make everything around it seem thin and inconsequential; Soundgarden is a rock-and-roll band that wins by comparison, meaning you've heard it all before when you're listening to the records in one sitting but haven't heard enough when the individual pieces are taken outside of their context. Same goes for Down on the Upside, one of those rare rock-and-roll records that doesn't confuse "growth" with "more songs."

As a collection of 16 songs, it grows redundant--Soundgarden is nothing if not the Led Zep of the '90s, and you could take that as compliment or affront and be right on both counts--yet slip "Dusty" or "Ty Cobb" or a few other nuggets out of the mix, and there's hope. "Dusty" represents the "sensitive" Soundgarden, all melodies and optimism, and "Ty Cobb" stands the punk ground with mandolins and a chorus of "hard-headed fuck you all," and they go together like a kiss and a slap. Soundgarden only sounds deep--the lyric sheet still reads like sophomore-composition poetry ("Forever means all is not seen/Never means forever brings everything")--but when you're standing at the back of the arena, appearance is still everything.

Soundgarden is no longer a metal band pretending to be punk. It has its own niche now--more passionate and obtuse than Pearl Jam, less desperate than most other metal bands who'd confuse self-pity with self-destruction, more musical than other bands too ashamed to admit they'd rather be an art-rock band above all else.

As different as the same
Wild Mood Swings
The Cure
Elektra Records

Robert Smith says he wishes the band had called it quits a decade ago, and I'm not so sure they didn't: Wild Mood Swings kicks off with a bit of feedback mood noodling that washes away the Goth-pop for a second or two, but like Morrissey, Smith is still troubled by his own navel lint, which makes him an eccentric at best and a cliche at the most obvious. "The 13th" is a nice pop move till you realize Haircut 100 did "Latin" better.

The guitar bombast only highlights the lack of any structure beyond atmosphere--before, you could at least buy into the notion the songs were "dreamy"--but when Smith tries to sing ("Club America") instead of merely bewail, you just know they're getting ready for the summer tour playing the outdoor arenas, where voices carry better than makeup.

--Robert Wilonsky

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