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Changing Their Tune--Again : SOUNDGARDEN: “Down on the Upside” A&M; (*** 1/2)

Even before grunge had a name, Soundgarden was experimenting with a heady blend of hard rock and punk infused with blues and psychedelia. With 1994’s “Super-unknown,” the band distilled those ingredients into a polished, multi-platinum Grammy-winning record.

According to conventional wisdom, tinkering with such a potent recipe for success might seem a reckless move. Then again, Soundgarden never puts much stock in convention, so the twists and turns on its fifth album should come as no surprise.

Suffused in a warmer, earthier ambience than “Superunknown,” “Upside” allows more breathing room for the songs’ gritty idiosyncrasies to surface: Pop-inflected tunes are scruffier and crunching numbers grind with more of an edge. And “Burden in My Hand” brims with a blues-tinged, country twang.

As much of a departure as it may seem from “Superunknown,” the oddball eclecticism of “Upside” actually harks back to Soundgarden’s earliest works. Yet far from rehashing the past, the band has simply taken its musical melange to a new level.

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Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).


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