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Soundgarden still exploring the ‘Superunknown,’ 20 years later

Soundgarden and

Nine Inch Nails

7 p.m. Sunday

Gexa Energy Pavilion, Dallas



Posted 11:52am on Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014

Was it so long ago that I slipped the Superunknown cassette from its plastic case and deposited it into my Sony boombox?

The music industry has taken to marking even the most insignificant releases with reissues at the five, 10- and 15-year marks, and while most of them are absorbed without a second thought, there’s something about one of your favorite albums hitting the 20th anniversary mark.

That fullness — two complete decades — makes you stop, take notice and, most likely, feel your age.

After all, each milestone is a fresh reminder that youth is fading ever further into the rear view.

This year especially has been repeatedly unkind, with many beloved albums from my teenage years marking that formidable 20th anniversary.

Records that pried open my 14-year-old brain and spilled fascinating new information into it — a whiff of the forbidden, as though I was being given a glimpse of a world I didn’t fully understand yet, but was drawn toward anyway.

For me, Soundgarden’s breakthrough album, Superunknown, was one of those records.

The rockers are playing Sunday at Gexa Energy Pavilion on a co-headlining bill with fellow ’90s survivors Nine Inch Nails, where they will undoubtedly pay at least fleeting tribute to their defining album.

I came of age as grunge — now as quaint a descriptor as rap-rock — was in full flower, albeit in conservative, flat Oklahoma, not the drizzly Pacific Northwest.

At the time, I was only responding to the music, as I suspect most teenagers did and continue to do.

The lyrics would occasionally register — 4th of July still manages to hypnotize even as it creeps me out — but mostly, I was captivated by Chris Cornell’s raging howls, Kim Thayil’s blazing guitar work and Matt Cameron’s crushing drum fills.

I was taking it all at face value, unaware of Soundgarden’s genesis and close affiliation with another favorite of mine, Pearl Jam, or how the band fit in with its contemporaries.

All that concerned me was what spilled out of that boombox — dark and mysterious and melodic and nervy.

I’ve never understood why the album struck such a chord. Armchair therapists might try to correlate teen angst and the brooding misery coursing beneath cuts like Fell on Black Days, but that’s not the case. And I’ve never really tried to understand why.

Just press play, and let it wash over me once again.

Listening to music that way, free from anything other than what you’re hearing, becomes more difficult as you grow older. Too much “outside noise” filters in, making it tougher to take something at face value.

I suspect that the reason Superunknown and the other records from that era continue to resonate for me is because I fell for them completely, a pure, untainted sort of love.

That’s how I choose to remember these albums, as moments in time, when my life was forever altered. (I think the term “anniversary,” with its connotations of weddings — and, yes, also funerals — is far from accidental when used in marketing musical re-releases.)

I’ve drifted from some of my teenage favorites, but the beauty of Superunknown or any album I wore out in the early ’90s is that they remain ready to be revisited, like a theater of the mind, always able to be appreciated anew.

Now I listen to Superunknown in a weird, sort of dual headspace: The critic in me admires the dense thematic and musical layers and grim vision; the kid in me waits for the buildup in Like Suicide to release into a glorious crescendo of guitar.

I hope to return to the latter state of mind, if only for a few hours, on Sunday when Soundgarden takes the stage.

Preston Jones, 817-390-7713 Twitter: @prestonjones

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