Unlike its heavy-metal forebears, whose clearly utilitarian function in the rock & roll schema is to cause serious headbanging upon contact with the adolescent psyche, Seattle’s Soundgarden can make a teen momentarily sit still in wonder. In Badmotorfinger, a typical melody consists of one long elegant guitar note that swoops slowly up and down the chromatic scale, as fluid as the new model android in Terminator 2. On songs like the cynical ”Jesus Christ Pose” and ”Slaves and Bulldozers,” Soundgarden sound a hell of a lot smarter than their peers, who seldom get beyond extolling booze, girls, and cars. As on 1989’s Louder Than Love, singer Chris Cornell’s intense, wailing voice is laid over the kind of sticky-slow bottom that only surburban white boys can really get right. But the final effect is merely stylishly bombastic rather than bludgeoningly bombastic. Tuneless heavy metal is, after all, still tuneless heavy metal, and in that department, Soundgarden are as functional as they make ’em. B+

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