The Soundgarden album Chris Cornell called “a mistake”

Not many artists are safe from having some lacklustre material in their catalogue. Unless your name is The Beatles and you can gradually progress like musical gods, there will always be a handful of albums that don’t seem as fleshed-out as they could have been. Although Soundgarden was known for mixing things up on almost every single project they worked on, Chris Cornell thought that most of Ultramega OK was strange for all the wrong reasons.

For as long as the alternative invasion took place, though, Soundgarden was always the outlier of Seattle’s Big Four. Outside of having one of the most god-gifted voices in rock history, they always strayed away from the kind of massive fame that their contemporaries got, not having their first major hits until Superunknown, well after the death of Kurt Cobain.

Initially, they were a much different band than the one who made bangers like ‘Black Hole Sun’. Before being heralded as the next answer to Led Zeppelin, they started out as a weird art-rock outfit, with Cornell originally seated from behind the drumkit when playing their first handful of gigs.

After drafting Matt Cameron behind the kit, Cornell was free to become the rock god he was always destined to be, helping put together the band’s first songs like ‘Flower’ and their bluesy cover of ‘Smokestack Lightning’. Even though Ultramega OK was a decent record for its time and was even nominated for a Grammy, Cornel had doubts about the kind of album he was making.

When speaking to Kerrang, Cornell thought that the group should have never released their debut because of how ramshackle it was, saying, “We made a huge mistake with ‘Ultramega OK’ because we left our home surroundings and people we’d been involved with and used this producer that did affect our album in a kind of negative way…I regret it because, in terms of material, it should have been one of the best records we ever did.”

While that sense of indecision is evident from the first few tracks, that kind of “anything goes” approach is probably much closer to what the Seattle scene was like when the band first got the ball rolling. For as much as songs like ‘Flower’ may have been a gargantuan piece of rock, it’s kind of charming when it’s sitting next to a piece such as ‘Circle of Power’, featuring a punk guitar opening and one of the most questionable vocal passes to ever appear on a Soundgarden project.

There are even a few moments where it sounds like Cornell is finding himself as a vocalist. Even though he may not have been the most confident frontman in the beginning, works such as ‘Beyond The Wheel’ are a peek at what he would become in the next few years, practically being a test run for what songs like ‘Outshined’ would be.

Despite Cornell’s hangups with it, the album would even have fans amongst the Seattle greats, with Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic loving the sounds of ‘Beyond the Wheel’ when he first heard it. Soundgarden may have still been the small fish in the small pond on Ultramega OK, but what made it to the record is the sound of a band slowly morphing into a giant.

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