The members of Soundgarden knew there was something very special about “Superunknown” even when they finished recording the album in 1993.
“We knew we were doing something different from what everyone expected,” bassist Ben Shepherd says of the groundbreaking album rereleased Tuesday, June 3, in multiple formats.
Before rehearsals at Seattle’s Studio X for the band’s upcoming tour with Nine Inch Nails, Shepherd and Kim Thayil took a break to talk about the 20th-anniversary rerelease of one of Seattle’s greatest rock albums of the 1990s.
Over the last two decades — a period when the Seattle band featuring Shepherd, Thayil, singer-guitarist Chris Cornell and drummer Matt Cameron soared to Grammy-winning heights before breaking up in 1997 (and later reuniting in 2010) — the masterpiece of progressive hard rock has held up extremely well. It remains a riveting collection of songs from the band’s creative and commercial zenith.
“It has a lot of depth,” guitarist Thayil said. “There’s a lot of variety in the tracks. It’s an eclectic record for that genre. When I listen on headphones — and that’s my favorite way of listening to it — I hear things I forgot.”
The band’s most successful album, “Superunknown” was a commercial breakthrough that debuted at No. 1 on The Billboard 200. It has been certified five times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America and has sold more than 9 million copies worldwide.
“We knew it would be successful, but not as successful as it was,” Kim said. “We didn’t have the pop chops that Nirvana and Pearl Jam had.”
Perhaps the biggest surprise has been surging interest among grass roots fans in the dark and dissonant “The Day I Tried to Live,” originally released as one of five singles.
“It wasn’t received that hugely at the time, but it has shown more life than some of the other singles,” Thayil said.
“Vernon Reid was recently on ‘That Metal Show’ and they asked him, ‘If you could have written any song in your career, what would it have been?’ I couldn’t believe it when he said, ‘The Day I Tried to Live’ by Soundgarden. He said it saved his life.”
Recorded at Seattle’s Bad Animals studio with producer Michael Beinhorn, “Superunknown” yielded two Grammy-winning singles for 1994 — the ominous “Black Hole Sun” and hyperkinetic “Spoonman” (featuring street musician Artis the Spoonman). But the album itself, nominated for a Grammy for best rock album, lost to the Rolling Stones’ “Voodoo Lounge.”
This week, the album’s anniversary is being celebrated with two reissues — a two-CD Deluxe Edition featuring the remastered album, plus a second disc of demos, rehearsal tracks, B-sides and other outtakes; and a five-CD Super Deluxe Edition featuring the remastered album, additional demos, rehearsal tracks and B-sides. The fifth disc is the album mixed in Blu-ray Audio 5.1 Surround Sound for a mind-blowing aural experience.
The Super Deluxe Edition comes in a hard-bound book with a lenticular cover, featuring liner notes by Rolling Stone senior editor David Fricke and new artwork and photography.
“The best albums define their time, then transcend it,” Fricke writes in the liner notes. “ ‘Superunknown’ is an honest monument to its era and birthplace.”