. . .
I’ll confess that I bought Superunknown as a CD — it was 1994, fer chrissakes — but had I purchased it as a vinyl, I would have come to the conclusion that side two was one of the greatest sides of music on any metal album ever.
That’s despite the fact that it only has three songs. But any side of music that leads off with “Superunknown” and ends with “Black Hole Sun” is going be a contender, especially when it has the monster deep cut “Head Down” connecting the two.
Written entirely by bassist Ben Shepherd, “Head Down” is perhaps the most overtly psychedelic song in Soundgarden’s entire canon. And yeah, that includes Shepherd’s other Superunknown contribution, the raga-influenced “Half,” which is weird enough, but not nearly as big. Because “Head Down” is utterly huge, full of chattering drums, soaring guitars, and one of Cornell’s most restrained vocals, as he sings Shepherd’s impressionistic lyrics is a quiet near-falsetto.
I see that smile, I see that smile
I see that smile on your face
We hear you cry, we hear you wail
We see that smile on your face
One of the several things that’s cool about “Head Down” is how Cornell slowly ratchets up the tension with his vocals: as he progresses through the verses he gets more and more intense — double-tracking himself — until at the choruses, he’s full-throated Chris screaming “head high, you’ve got to smile” and “head high, a song you like” like they were the most important things in the whole wide universe. Which, maybe they were.
Bow down, bow down
Bow down with your life
Head down, head down
Head down, hide that smile
Head high, head high
Head high, you’ve got to smile
Head high, head high
Head high, a song you like
There is a shit-ton of Beatles in here — not surprising given that Soundgarden covered at least three Fab Four songs in their career (“Come Together,” “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except For Me and My Monkey” and “Helter Skelter,” for those of you keeping score at home) — but of course it was all run through the “everything louder than everything else,” filter so the Beatles influence was mostly inferred. But it was definitely there, especially at the end, when Thayil takes a trippy solo over what turned out to be three different drummers — Matt Cameron, natch, but also his drum tech Gregg Keplinger and Shepherd himself — all of which are chittering and chattering.
Just fucking magnificent on every level, and probably my second favorite song on the album, after the title track.
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