The death of Chris Cornell hit me hard. Normally celebrity deaths do not, but this one did. Maybe it is because Cornell has been part of my life since the 80’s. Before Black Hole Sun, before Audio Slave, before acoustic covers there was Louder Than Love.
Louder Than Love was Soundgarden’s first major label release. It was the band at their heaviest, at their most discordant. If Badmotorfinger is their masterpiece and Superunknown their fast track to the mainstream, Louder Than Love is their hidden gem. It is the record the old time fans recognize.
The record, like Utlramega OK and Screaming Life/Fopp before it, has largely been forgotten. After his passing everyone was quick to post their essential Cornell songs list and none had any songs from Louder Than Love on it.
It is a record that has aged very well for me. I did not love it at first, but it is the one I know return to the most, spinning it several times a year to this day.
I bought the record on a whim. It came recommended by, of all bands, Enuff Z Nuff, the hippy hair rockers who have almost nothing in common with Soundgarden. I bought it, on cassette for $6.99 at an old Warehouse Records and did not know what to make of it. It was heavy, one of the heaviest things I had heard at that point of my nascent metal exploration. It was good then, but as it aged it became great.
Louder Than Love lacked the sheen and polish of future records. It lacked ballads and pop melodies in most places. It was a riff heavy record that was vaguely political and highly sexualized, all the good things in rock and roll.
It also introduced the world to Cornell. His vocals while oddly familiar were completely unique. While the band was called the Black Sabbath of the Grunge scene, Cornell was no Ozzy, he was Robert Plant. He was the bare chested, wild haired, air raid siren. While others in the scene denied their Rock God status, he embodied it. He was straight from central casting.
He was an acolyte at the sonic temple built by Plant and renovated by Bruce Dickenson. He sounded nothing like his Seattle peers. His voice soared and Louder Than Love showcased it at its peak glory.
The record begins with a one-two punch of “Ugly Truth” and “Hands All Over,” two driving songs that allow Cornell to really deliver the goods. On the opener he concludes the song with his high-pitched bellows of “It’s ugly” and “You’re not mine to give.” It is a perfect introduction to the album and the next 30 years. Here he unknowingly serves notice, forget those hair metal pretenders, this is the heir apparent to Plant.
“Hands All Over” kicks it right off with Cornell screaming, “Don’t Touch Me” and he never really lets up. The song caused some controversy because of a line where Cornell sings “kill you mother” but a deeper dive into the lyrics suggest he is singing more metaphorically about the earth and culture and not about an actual person.
The record shifts gears with “Gun”, arguably their heaviest songs. It is slow, heavy, punishing in places. Cornell reels in the vocals at first but as the song speeds up, his vocals get higher and higher, his range extends.
It must be noted that the first three songs, and really much of the album lacks traditional choruses, which is ironic considering the catchiness of future songs like “Black Hole Sun” and “Outshined.”
“Power Trip” shows Cornell’s ability to slow things down, while “Get on the Snake” speeds things up, bringing a little punk attitude to a song that hides its innuendo slightly more than the typical Whitesnake song.
“Full on Kevin’s Mom” has the band showing their humorous side. The song is simply about a group of friends who fall apart due to one deciding to sleep with Kevin’s Mom. It is short, it is sweet and it is pretty catchy in places.
“Loud Love” should have been the hit. The guitar is catchy yet hypnotic and Cornell delivers the goods. His voice soars, pummels and croons. If it had come out 5 years later we may be talking about this track with the same reverence as “Jesus Christ Pose” or “Rusty Cage.”
The second half of the record drags a bit compared to the first, but there are still great moments. “Uncovered” shows off some of Cornell’s vocal dexterity.
Despite the brief lull, the album ends on a high note, even if it takes a dramatic shift in tone and sound. “Big Dumb Sex” is the greatest hit that never was, due to its profanity laced chorus. Although still heavy, it has a chorus that would put anything in pop radio to shame. Sadly, or awesomely depending on your point of view, it never reached those ears due to the words. Simply put, Cornell croons “Hey I know what to do/I’m gonna/----, ----, ---- you, ---- you.”
It was dead in the water in terms of mainstream success, but it is an amazing song, one that would later be covered on by Guns N Roses among others.
The record closes with a refrain of “Full On Kevin’s Mom” this time the distortion is stripped from the guitars, which almost sound country-esque while Cornell simply sings “Full on Kevin’s Mom” and “Sing Me To Sleep” as the record fades out. It is a simple call back, yet shows some of what is to come with the catchiness and irreverence that would creep into later works.