Soundgarden's 'Superunknown' has both alternative and metal appeal

March 11, 1994|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

SUPERUNKNOWN

Soundgarden (A&M 31454 0198)

Forget those arguments over whether Nirvana or Pearl Jam rules the Seattle rock world. Frankly, no band better typifies the adventurous aggression of that scene better than Soundgarden, and if you need proof, look no further than "Superunknown." Like the band's previous work, this album has more than its share of sonic crunch, from the hypnotic riffage of "Let Me Drown" to the full-throttle roar of "Kickstand." But that's hardly the limit of this band's imagination. Many of the album's most memorable songs draw from decidedly non-metal sources, like the funky pulse of "Fresh Tendrils," the surfer psychedelia of "My Wave" or the Beatlesque arpeggios of "Black Hole Sun." Taken together, it gives the album enough range and depth to satisfy alternative rockers as much as metalheads.

SOUL TRAIN HALL OF FAME:

20TH ANNIVERSARY

Various Artists (Rhino 71618)

"Soul Train" was never just a dance show -- for many viewers, it was the easiest and most dependable means available to keep up with the latest in R&B. It's appropriate, then, that the three-CD set "Soul Train Hall of Fame: 20th Anniversary" serves as an overview of the last two decades in R&B. Granted, a lot of listeners will be attracted by the set's historical sweep, which runs the gamut of R&B styles from B. B. King's bluesy "The Thrill Is Gone" to Kool & the Gang's disco-driven "Celebrate" to the hip-hop pulse of Naughty By Nature's "O.P.P." (though Michael Jackson is notably absent). But the set's greatest strength is that almost every song still sounds as danceable today as it did when Don Cornelius first introduced it -- and that's no mean feat.

THE SPEED OF GRACE

Matraca Berg (RCA 786-366-351)

As much as country music has played up its crossover appeal in recent years, country vocal styles have for the most part remained as predictable as ever -- as if it wouldn't really be country if it didn't have that twang. Unless, of course, it's Matraca Berg. Rather than impose a sense of style on her material, she seems more interesting in offering a performance that meets the song's needs. Spend some time with "The Speed of Grace," and you'll hear her do a little bit of everything, from the droll Texas delivery of "Tall Drink of Water" to urgent folk-rock shadings of "Guns in My Head." She can even do a pretty mean Bonnie Raitt-style blues, as "Come to Momma" shows. But her most impressive performances are by far the most emotional -- meaning that if the heartbroken balladry of "Jolene" doesn't sweep you off your feet, nothing here will.

INSTRUMENTS OF TERROR

Laika and the Cosmonauts (Upstart 8005)

Apart from the Ventures, instrumental rock never really held much sway over American listeners. But it was quite another story in Scandinavia, where groups like the Spotniks were big in the '60s, and acts like the Finnish combo Laika and the Cosmonauts still have a following today. Granted, there's little on the Cosmonauts' "Instruments of Terror" that quite lives up to the title -- unless, of course, you have a mortal fear of surf guitar and farfisa organ. But the group's blend of frat-rock verities and Finnish folk melodies makes this an oddly irresistible offering.

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