Composed by Chris Cornell

Song Review by

With Soundgarden having garnered a Grammy nomination for their cult-hit major-label debut Louder Than Love, expectations of a major breakout were running high for the 1991 follow-up record, Badmotorfinger. The brilliant "Jesus Christ Pose" was the first single pulled from the record, but no matter how good the song was, its dissonant chaos was simply not going to reap major airplay. Enter "Outshined," a steadily creeping rocker with a main riff that strongly recalled the heavy murk of prime Black Sabbath. Its more traditional feel was much more in line with what programmers were looking for, and the song became inescapable on rock radio, college radio, and MTV. However, even with its classic rock roots showing, "Outshined" was far from standard fare. The song's main riff is in 7/4 time, and although it seems to fit perfectly, the expected yet missing eighth beat produces a subtly disorienting effect on the ear. So, too, does the contrasting texture of Chris Cornell's upper-register howl floating over the low rumble of Kim Thayil's guitar, whose bottom string is tuned lower than normal to produce a creepier, more bone-rattling heaviness. (Some underground metal bands had employed devices like these, but these tricks had rarely been fitted together into such an accessible framework.) During the pre-chorus section, Thayil suddenly switches from bottom-end riffing to dense, jangling chords; the effect is like letting a ray of sunshine into a dank basement, especially when coupled with the lilting, almost falsetto melody of the background vocal line "so now you know." However, the let-up is only momentary, as the chorus switches back to hard and heavy power chords and a minor-key melody bashed out as a unison between vocal and guitar, in true Black Sabbath fashion. While much of the sonic effect of "Outshined" strongly resembles that band's work (although it's more rhythmically complex), there is an important difference. Where the disorienting qualities of Sabbath's music seemed informed by otherworldly, druggy nightmares, the sluggish confusion and depression of "Outshined" were derived simply from a dissatisfaction with everyday real life. Cornell's lyrics are full of paradoxes, diametrical opposites contained in the same line or couplet ("I got up feeling so down"; "I'm feeling that I'm sober, even though I'm drinking/I can't get any lower, still I feel I'm sinking"). It's a portrait of an existence that's self-contradicting, self-defeating, relentlessly self-critical ("I got off being sold out/I kept the movie rolling, but the story's getting old now"; "I just looked in the mirror and things aren't looking so good"), and the claustrophobia of feeling trapped in that life. It's a powerful re-imagining of what the Sabbath sound can represent, and the song's encapsulation of early-'90s angst and directionlessness helps make it one of the definitive grunge anthems.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Badmotorfinger 1991 A&M 5:10
Badmotorfinger/SOMMS (Satanoscillatemymetallicsonatas) 1992 A&M 5:10
True Romance [Motion Picture Soundtrack] 1993
Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Shout! Factory 5:12
A-Sides 1997 A&M 5:12
No Image 2008
Various Artists
Universal 5:11
Telephantasm 2010 A&M / Geffen 5:11
The Classic Album Selection 2012 Geffen / Universal Music 5:12
Beyond This Mortal Coil: A Live Tribute to Chris Cornell 2017 Goldfish / Golf 5:17
Chris Cornell 2018 A&M / Universal 5:11