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An In-Depth Look at Soundgarden’s Louder Than Love

While Nirvana became the poster band for the so-called grunge revolution, Soundgarden is the group that really first broke significant ground in Seattle.

And it was their sophomore album, Louder Than Love, that paved the way for the rest of the bands in Seattle in the late 1980s.

Louder Than Love, which was unleashed on the world on Sept. 5, 1989, was Soundgarden’s first major-label release after 1988’s Ultramega OK via indy label SST. In fact Soundgarden was the first Seattle “grunge” (I don’t classify them as grunge) band to garner a major record deal, setting the ball rolling for the likes of Alice in Chains, Mother Love Bone, Mudhoney, Screaming Trees, and Pearl Jam to follow suit.

When Louder Than Love first came out, the heavy, Black Sabbath-influenced tracks filled with doomy riffs and screaming vocals fell mostly on deaf ears, peaking at No. 108 on Billboard. But a video for “Hands All Over” would gain some valuable airplay on MTV and MuchMusic in Canada, exposing the band to some new fans.

For those at the time who got into the album, it was phenomenal.

1988: Cornell, Thayil, Yamamoto and Cameron

1988: Cornell, Thayil, Yamamoto and Cameron

Making Louder Than Love

Singer Chris Cornell, guitarist Kim Thayil, drummer Matt Cameron and then-bassist Hiro Yamamoto took two months (December ’88-January ’89) to record the album at Seattle’s London Bridge Studios, with producer Terry Date, who had worked with Metal Church and a few other bands before getting hired by Soundgarden.

When the band hit the studio, they had a clear goal in mind: To avoid any of the 1980s production techniques. Certainly Soundgarden wanted to stay away from that polished Def Leppard or Poison sound that was so popular back then. It got to the point where every lame band along Sunset Strip could get a good producer and throw out a record to capitalize on hard rock’s popularity during that decade. In fact those hair bands were already on their way out, as music fans were turning to the likes of Jane’s Addiction, Metallica, Guns N’ Roses and Faith No More for music that was more raw and unrefined.

Even though Louder Than Love certainly had a natural, organic sound, Cornell stated in Raw magazine in 1991 that the record “was just a few degrees too produced and too clean, although I wouldn’t want to change any of it.”

With Yamamoto struggling to come up with ideas, while losing confidence is his ability to be creative (he did write the music for “Power Trip”, “No Wrong, No Right” and “I Awake”), Cornell ended up handling most of the song writing and all the lyrics, except for “I Awake”, the words of which were written by Yamamoto’s girlfriend at the time, Kate McDonald on a note to the bass player.

“At the time Hiro had excommunicated himself from the band and there wasn’t a free-flowing system as far as music went, so I ended up writing a lot of it,” recalls Cornell in the Raw interview.

While the riffs are uber heavy with many tracks dropped into Drop D tuning, and Cornell’s vocals powerfully carry the songs, an interesting aspect of Louder Than Love are the unusual time signatures. “Get On the Snake” showcases 9/4 time, “Gun” mixes tempos beautifully, while “I Awake” boasts 4/4, 6/4, 11/8 and 14/8. It’s a testament to Cameron’s talent in the drummer’s chair.

Interestingly, “Big Dumb Sex” is a major parody of the glam metal scene at the time, where 90% of the bands were singing about sex using all kinds of euphemisms. Given that, Cornell figured he’d write a song mocking that notion by spelling it out clear as a bell. Guns N’ Roses would use it on their The Spaghetti Incident? album of cover songs, while Yamamoto hated the song.

While every song is good, the top tracks include “Loud Love” (great riff and vocal), “Gun” (heavy, heavy riff), “Ugly Truth” (Cornell at his best), “Hands All Over” (great melody and groove) and “Big Dumb Sex” (catchy melody and lyrics).

Soundgarden would go on to gain millions of fans with their next album Badmotorfinger in 1991, but it was Louder Than Love that showcased the power of the band before grunge became a household word.

Check out more of Cam Maxwell’s Rock ‘N Roll Insight.

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