#38: Elvis Costello and the Attractions, ‘Imperial Bedroom’ (1982) vs. Soundgarden, ‘Superunknown’ (1994)

Oh Elvis, you poor little fellow – you drew a short straw with this one. You’re like the head of the chess club being sent out to grapple with the captain of the wrestling team. Don’t get me wrong, you’re a clever musical craftsman, but there is a rock n’ roll juggernaut thundering across the mat towards you. You might just want to run.

Full disclosure – your judge and juror is a slobbering fan of your opponent. As far as I’m concerned, Superunknown is the pinnacle of grunge achievement. There is no album from that legendary early 90s scene that captivated me more than this one. Because what’s better than grunge than grunge with Beatlesque ambition pumped through a psychedelic filter? Soundgarden had me at Badmotorfinger but they scooped me up and carried me away with this 1994 masterpiece.  Chris Cornell’s voice is a force of nature; the music is dark, heavy, melodic, creative, experimental. And BIG. They even make a pair of spoons sound epic.

The darkness is all the more potent since Chris Cornell’s suicide in May 2017. Suddenly songs like “Fell on Black Days”, “Black Hole Sun” and “The Day I Tried to Live” are all the more intense. I hadn’t listened to Superunknown in years. Listening to it now, I am struck by how great it still sounds.

But let’s give Imperial Bedroom its due, Elvis. On this, your seventh album, you expanded your sound and played with different genres. It’s been a genuine pleasure to discover it, and it’s prettier and more interesting than I expected. No doubt about it, you are a meticulous craftsman with a gifted band. I absolutely love the soaring “Man out of Time”, as well as “…And in Every Home”, which makes me think of Randy Newman, and “Pidgin English”, which starts out sounding like the Kinks and then…

…oh, why I am bothering with this analysis? This one is no contest and never was. Your shoulders have been on the mat from word one. Sorry, Elvis.


WINNER: Soundgarden, Superunknown (2 points)


80s: 6

90s: 7

80s: 7
90s: 9

Next week’s battle – #37: Marvin Gaye, Midnight Love (1982) vs. Johnny Cash, American Recordings (1994)

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