Album Reviews

Various Artists: Singles: Deluxe Edition (Legacy Recordings)

Various Artists
Singles (Deluxe Edition)
Legacy Recordings

It is impossible to discuss this superb reissue of the soundtrack of cult hit Singles without discussing the death of Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell, simply because his presence dominates this collection. Yet in its way, his death is a reminder of the harsh realm that was the Seattle scene, and how there was an ever-present darkness that emanated from the music of the era. For all of its great (and not so great) music, the Seattle scene soon became known for less savory matters–heroin use, drug overdoses, and suicide. Sadly, Cornell’s death almost feels as if it is merely continuing the legacy of the scene he helped create thirty years prior, and that’s a damned shame.

Cameron Crowe’s movie Singles,  however, got lucky. It was completed just before Nirvana conquered the world–in fact, by the time the film was released in 1992, Nirvana’s absence from the soundtrack and the dialogue is impossible to miss–so it exudes an innocent charm that would soon be exploited—both that of the city, and of the “Gen X” phenomenon. Plot-wise, it’s merely a rom-com based around college kids in a hip town, nothing more, nothing less, and centered on Matt Damon’s grunge band, Citizen Dick. The soundtrack contained great numbers by bands that would become seminal, such as Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Mudhoney, Screaming Trees, and Smashing Pumpkins. Former Replacements frontman Paul Westerberg contributed two extremely catchy numbers, “Dyslexic Heart” and “Waiting For Somebody.”

This deluxe edition includes a handful of songs that were featured in the film but not released—primarily live performances, a few demos of the album tracks, and the hilarious Citizen Dick song, “Touch Me I’m Dick.” But the centerpiece of this set is “The Poncier Tape.” In a deleted scene, Matt Dillon’s character, Cliff Poncier, quits his band, and puts out a cassette tape of solo recordings. As a joke, Cornell compiled a handful of demos, put them on a cassette, and packaged it in the case of one of the prop tapes, and sent them to Crowe via his wife, Nancy Wilson. After getting a good chuckle at the prank, he listened to the tape, and was stunned by the music inside. Stark, dark, and beautiful, it was Cornell and his guitar, offering heavy and potent and powerful songs that lacked the loudness of Soundgarden but not the intensity. As a low-key promo, Poncier, a limited edition promo CD was released, and quickly became an impossible-to-find holy grail for collectors. At the time, only “Seasons” would make the soundtrack; it’s a powerful blues ballad that not only highlights Cornell’s amazing voice, but also his tender guitar work and his thoughtful, introspective lyrical mind.

The rest of the songs on the tape are offered here, and they’re quite wonderful as well. “Spoon Man,” of course, would be reworked for Soundgarden’s next album, Superunknown; this version is bluesy, and with the spoons in the forefront, it sounds like a graveyard racket. “Nowhere But You” is haunting and dizzying, with ghostly, woozy singing over a swampy, hell-borne guitar. “Flutter Girl” is a simple, plaintive ballad, a love song that aches pure emotion, while “Missing” is a noisy, clunky rocker that shines throughout the messy production and the unfinished ideas that go along with a demo recording. It’s a beautiful number, even in its sloppiness; it shows that even the unguarded imperfect moments of Chris Cornell offered greatness–the sign of a major talent, a talent now silenced for seemingly no good reason.

In much the same way that the death of Kurt Cobain brought the end to the world’s fascination with “Grunge,” Cornell’s death feels very much like the end of something. What that is has yet to really be determined. Is it the closing of the book on that era of Seattle music? Some have suggested so. It’s hard to tell so soon after the fact—his death two weeks ago still weighs heavy on people’s hearts (including yours truly), but the hindsight of it all will become evident in time. It has to mean something, it probably does mean something, and if it doesn’t, well, then, that’s the greatest tragedy of all.

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