Soundgarden – ‘Screaming Life/Fopp’ reissue

On Nov. 26 Subpop reissued the Soundgarden collection Screaming Life/Fopp, comprised of the EPs Screaming Life (1987) and Fopp (1988). The collection had gone out of print in recent years, and Soundgarden felt it was time to make it available again, this time with a fresh remaster and the addition of the bonus track “Sub Pop Rock City” from the Sub Pop 200 compilation. The collection is presented in a stylish Digipak with artwork and credits for both original EPs presented in an 8-panel poster format.

Cover artwork for Soundgarden’s ‘Screaming Life/Fopp’ reissue

Cover artwork for Soundgarden’s ‘Screaming Life/Fopp’ reissue.

When Soundgarden released King Animal in November of 2012 they hadn’t released new material in 16 years. During that timeframe the band’s back catalog, online presence and merchandise had all been neglected, according to Kim Thayil in a recent Rolling Stone interview. So, the reissue of Screaming Life/Fopp is mostly just an effort to make it available again, with some modest improvements along the way.

Screaming Life/Fopp presents a great opportunity for casual and die-hard Soundgarden fans alike to take another look at the band’s early years. These songs exemplify what early grunge was all about: punk mixed with heavy metal, with influences of psychedelia, classic rock, glam, funk and other genres thrown into the mix. All the elements that would make Soundgarden world-famous are present here, just in a more raw, unrefined manner – Chris Cornell’s powerful, yet vulnerable, wailing; Kim Thayil’s dissonant, experimental riffing; the powerhouse rhythm interplay between then-bassist Hiro Yamamoto and drummer Matt Cameron.

First, let’s take a look at the Screaming Life portion of the set, as produced by Jack Endino and the band. “Hunted Down” is a doomy dirge reminiscent of 70’s-era Black Sabbath, infused with the experimental noodlings of Sonic Youth. “Tears To Forget” is hard-driving, aggressive punk with Cornell’s strained vocals treading into death metal territory. The centerpiece of the collection is “Nothing To Say”, which highlights the band’s ability to fuse heaviness and melody. Cornell’s vocals soar to new heights here, seemingly channeling Robert Plant, and it’s clear that Soundgarden would move on to greater things. “Little Joe” has an irresistible funk catchiness to it, sounding at times like Red Hot Chili Peppers. “Hand Of God” finishes off the Screaming Life portion of the collection, making interesting use of a sampled religious sermon. Producer Jack Endino, who also supervised the remaster for this collection, had the following to say:

“Ah, Screaming Life, Soundgarden’s debut, and one of the first real records I made for anyone outside my own band. I already knew Soundgarden pretty well, since they and Skin Yard had shared the stage many times in Seattle’s tiny club scene circa 1985-1986. Soon after opening Reciprocal Recording in July 1986, there I was with Soundgarden, trying to make the most of our eight tracks. Somehow, we found for all of Matt Cameron’s ‘bonus tubs’, Hiro’s primordial Fender bass, and a whopping four tracks to share between Kim Thayil’s mad guitar psychedelia and Chris Cornell’s still-expanding voice. ‘Nothing To Say’ was the song that made all look at each other and go, ‘uh, holy crap, how did we do this?’”

The bonus track “Sub Pop Rock City” is a fun romp, clearly intended for a very limited local audience. Its inclusion is welcome, but it’s hard to imagine it making a huge difference to buyers one way or the other.

Moving on to the Fopp portion of the collection, as produced by Steve Fisk, the centerpiece is of course “Fopp”, a cover of the classic funk jam by Ohio Players. The cover serves as a reminder of just how diverse the grunge phenomenon was during its heyday and how its influences drew from all over the pop music spectrum. The cover succeeds in part because it retains the original’s formidable brass and horn section. Steve Fisk is credited with “additional electronics” for this release, presumably what we refer to now as sampling, although the term wasn’t as defined in 1988.

Fisk’s “Fopp (Fucked Up Heavy Dub Mix)” is a very unique listen, as the mix is truly a dub in the traditional sense of the term. Early dub mixes came from the reggae tradition as a way to create an alternate mix to use for radio, as a B-side to a single or for deejay use. Mixes emphasized drum and bass parts, in addition to making use of echo, reverb, panoramic delay, tape manipulation and other lo-fi production techniques, all of which are present on Fisk’s mix.

The EP closes with “Swallow My Pride” a cover of Green River, one of the earliest grunge bands, whose members later went on to form Mudhoney, Mother Love Bone and Pearl Jam.  The song was a minor hit for Green River, and its lyrical content is as valid today as when it was written. The song’s lyrics describe the internal conflict of having to swallow one’s pride when dating someone with different political leanings, in this case fevered American nationalism during the Reagan era. Unlike the original version, Soundgarden’s version does not include the Blue Öyster Cult lyrics from the song “This Ain’t the Summer of Love”.

Between the two EPs, Screaming Life/Fopp is a fantastic collection for fans of Soundgarden and anyone interested in the early grunge sound. Do you have an opinion on the reissue, especially in relation to the quality of the remastering? We would love to hear from you, please comment below.

For more articles about grunge rock, hard rock and heavy metal please see:

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