5. Soundgarden – Like Suicide
One of the first things that surprised me about this song is this: as I was preparing to (re-)write this blog entry, I saw that the video link originally included had been pulled off YouTube. So I started looking for it…and it’s nowhere online. Not on Amazon, not on Spotify, not on Last.FM, not on iTunes. I can only assume that A&M went on a big purge in advance of the release of the 20th Anniversary Super Deluxe edition of Superunknown. On one hand, this is a crime against music simply because this is one of the most beautiful tracks ever recorded and I really dislike the draconian methods employed by the record company here. On the other hand, I get it – making the track unavailable creates demand for when it’s released. (Note: Since this article was originally written, the track has been made available again. I’ve rewritten some content below and included it in the article. -jh, 18Apr2018)
The electric version of this track is a piece of music that any lesser band would give their careers to write. The acoustic version is just heartbreakingly beautiful. First, let’s take a look at the original, electric version, for contrast.
There are some interesting things to note about this song which apply to both versions. First, the guitars are tuned to DADGBC – the low e is dropped a whole step, and the high e two whole steps. Cornell has remarked that this may be the only song ever recorded with this tuning, and while it’s just barely possible to pull it off in straight drop-D, doing so kills the sustain of the high notes and really detracts from the vibe of the song. It’s also worth noting – probably common knowledge by now – that while the song might seem to be about a woman or girl who commits suicide, it was actually inspired by the death of a bird that flew into Cornell’s picture window, breaking its neck. (I’ll leave the rest of the story for the reader to track down, but the lyrics are a big clue.) In spite of this, when I first heard it I was reminded of a good friend (who I half-dated for all of a couple times) who did in fact commit suicide, by hanging, when I was seventeen, and for this reason as well as the fact that it’s just a great song, it’s always been very near and dear to my heart.
So the electric version is pretty intense, starting with a bit snare-crash hit on the drums and over Ben Shepherd’s growling bass line, then the guitar riff comes in with classic Super-era dirt and shrill over a tribal beat, building in with breakdowns in the choruses until the song really hits high gear at the beginning of the guitar solo, coming to a pounding and energetic climax before riding a nice, meaty wave of sludge off into the sunset of the denouement of the last chorus.
While I absolutely enjoy the original, the vibe of the acoustic version seems to glide much better with the actual description in the lyrics, “Heard it from another room, eyes were waking up just to fall asleep.” It feels like what the words are describing, coming to consciousness maybe on a lazy, sunny Sunday, early afternoon after a late gig the night before. Keeping the original bass line but rendering it with an acoustic bass here instead is a very nice touch that adds some bottom-end to the song, without which I think this version would probably sound a bit thin.
Like the original, the chorus is almost a caesaura, but in this case because the song is in such a mellow groove in the first place, we break down to just the guitar, picking the chords of the core progression in an up-and-down sweep pattern.
The basic structure remains the same as the original, so we move back in to another verse-bridge-chorus set and into the solo. Like the electric version, the instrumental break in this acoustic track is the energetic climax of the song, but rather than a grungy, thumping, face-ripping assault, what we get is a spectacularly beautiful melange of multi-tracked guitar work, a subtle wood block, and layer upon layer of Chris Cornell’s haunting wail. I’ve deliberately take a piece from the earlier parts of this section, so as to save the real power for your surprise and amazement when you listen to the whole thing.
As with the original, we again come down from the celestial heights of one of the most complex and beautiful symphonies of guitar and vocals ever recorded, into a subdued, exhaling finish ending with only Cornell’s voice, putting over a sense of resignation, sorrow, and grief every bit as authentic and powerful as the end of mourning after the death of a loved one: “She lived like a murder but she died just like suicide.”
If you never spend $1.29 on a digital music download again, buy this one.