Midway through Sub Pop Rock City, the opening track on Soundgarden’s long-awaited 50 track rarities album, the song is interrupted by a fake phone call from Jonathan Poneman, one of Sub Pop’s co-founders, asking ‘I just want to know what the heck is going on?’
It’s a question Soundgarden used to get a lot in their early days, with members of the Seattle music community never quite sure whether Chris Cornell’s band were celebrating the musical cornerstones of the scene (Black Sabbath, Black Flag, Led Zeppelin and The Stooges) or taking the piss. This, after all, is the band who included the numbers 665 and 667 as track titles on their debut album, a band whose singer would appear on stage barechested with girly ribbons in his hair, a band whose original mission statement was that they wanted to sound like “Black Sabbath…without the parts that suck.”
This unease, this confusion, was what always made Soundgarden such a fascinating band…well, that and their earth-shaking, off-kilter riffs, Cornell’s astonishing voice and the fact that in Ben Shepherd and Matt Cameron they have the best rhythm section in rock. Disc two of this three CD collections serves as an easy reference manual for the band’s influences - with tracks from The Beatles (Come Together, Everybody’s Got Something To Hide (Except Me And My Monkey)), The Stooges (Seach And Destroy), Sabbath (Into The Void) and Fear (I Don’t Care About You) sharing disc space with deliciously straight-faced covers of Spinal Tap’s Big Bottom and Cheech and Chong’s Earache My Eye – but of more interest to fans are the rarities included here, from the previously unreleased ‘new’ song Storm (which dates back to a 1986 session with Jack Endino) to Ben Shepherd’s rather lovely instrumental Night Surf. Disc one highlights include the storming Birth Ritual, the quartet’s contribution to Cameron Crowe’s Singles soundtrack, original bassist Hiro Yamamoto’s creepy, powerful Toy Box (recorded with Endino during the sessions for the Screaming Life EP), Cornell’s Beatles-tinged She Likes Surprises and Kim Thayil’s previously unreleased Kristi, recorded during the Down On The Upside sessions, which as its author rightly notes “delivers the doom, foreboding and tension that has long been a signature of much of Soundgarden’s songwriting.”
The collection’s third discs, titled Oddities, compiles some of the band’s more left-field curios, from instrumentals - the aforementioned Night Surf and Matt Cameron’s Twin Tower - to dub remixes of Big Dumb Sex and Fopp, culminating in a ‘tribute’ to John Lennon’s Two Minutes of Silence titled One Minute Of Silence, actually 1 minute and 4 seconds of near silence on which the band can be heard muttering and murmuring in the background. “We were trying real hard to shut up, but Kim couldn’t possibly shut up for a whole minute,” Chris Cornell later complained. There’s little amid these 15 tracks that might be considered essential, but completists will appreciate band archivist Kim Thayil dusting off the master tapes. Best of all, with the vaults now clear, that leaves Soundgarden with time on their hands to get stuck into a follow-up to 2012’s King Animal. Stay weird gents and keep the confusion coming.