While the grunge movement of the early '90s would be remembered for thrift-store flannels and an updating of early punk angst, it's easy to forget that the earliest moments of grunge happened as a counterpoint to the hair metal that dominated the airwaves at that time. Reacting against the increasingly commercial state of heavy music but still very much indebted to the genre's past greats, much of what became alternative music started out simply as weird metal. Enter Soundgarden with their first two EPs, 1987's Screaming Life and 1988's Fopp, originally packaged together in 1990 by a soon-to-boom Sub Pop. Still a few years away from the downtuned proto-sludge of Louder Than Love and the worldwide grunge rock domination they would encounter throughout the '90s, these EPs and first proper album Ultramega OK found the band in a flailing state. Somewhere between their metal roots and the full articulation of the sound they'd realize shortly, Screaming Life is rooted firmly in generic post-Sabbath riffery and Chris Cornell's absent-minded howling. Suffering from equally generic production, much of the album comes off as listless or stifled, even though hints of future greatness peek through at times. The bleak and doomy "Nothing to Say" rolls along in a less-refined version of the heaviness they would sharpen on Badmotorfinger, and the dissonant guitars and Misfits-esque croon of "Hunted Down" also come off as a more naive reading of the band's later sound. Of the two EPs, Screaming Life is far superior to the embarrassingly hamfisted faux funk/punk of Fopp. An overly ironic and unfunny original tune lambasting the still-incubating Sub Pop scene, a Green River cover, and two mixes of an ill-fitting Ohio Players cover make Fopp even more fans-only fodder than the at times foreshadowing but ultimately mediocre fare of Screaming Life.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas