’s first studio album in 16 years doesn’t have the headlong rush that their best ‘90s records flaunted. But if you give King Animal
a little time, its moody textures and layered grooves start to assert themselves, suggesting that rather than duplicating the past this Seattle quartet have decided to stretch into new sonic territory. At its weakest, the record sounds like a veteran group trying to regain their sea legs, but King Animal
has enough sturdy pleasures that its lack of truly stunning moments doesn’t disappoint too badly.
As Propulsive as Ever
Several ‘90s bands have reunited in the last few years, but Soundgarden’s return has to be the most unusual. Brought back together in early 2010 because of a tweet that fans misunderstood
-- Chris Cornell
and the guys were relaunching their fan club, but it came across as a reunion announcement -- Soundgarden have decided to give it a go. Their resulting comeback record can perhaps best be described as a collection of 13 tracks that would have fit quite nicely as deep album cuts on their strongest discs, Badmotorfinger
. There isn’t a song on King Animal
with the sheer brilliance of “Black Hole Sun” or “Rusty Cage,” but the intertwining guitars of Cornell and Kim Thayil and the rumbling rhythm section of drummer Matt Cameron and bassist Ben Shepherd remain as colorfully intricate and propulsive as ever.
Staying Away From the Radio-Friendly
Interestingly, the opening track, lead single “Been Away Too Long,” is the only time when Soundgarden seem to be aching to recapture past glories. With its lumbering riff and booming drums (not to mention its melody reminiscent of “Superunknown”), “Been Away Too Long” is sufficiently catchy, but it’s catchy in a way that feels generic and calculated. Only here does Soundgarden sound like a Soundgarden cover band; for the rest of the album, they veer toward denser, less radio-friendly tunes that offer far more pleasures. This isn’t to say that you won’t experience déjà vu from time to time -- “Blood on the Valley Floor” recalls the thick menace of Badmotorfinger -- but for the most part the familiarity comes from a distinct sensibility that Soundgarden shaped in their heyday and are now rediscovering.
A Lead Singer Returning to His Strengths
Ever since Soundgarden hung it up in the late ’90s, Cornell has tried his hand with new bands (Audioslave) and solo records (most infamously his Timbaland
-produced pop record Scream
). With other Soundgarden members contributing music to King Animal
, this is hardly Cornell’s show alone, but it’s his rugged but still powerful vocals that tie together the images of rampant greed in “Non-State Actor” and the spiraling disillusionment of “Worse Dreams.” Where other singers posture, Cornell broods magnificently, bringing real feeling to the apocalyptic despair of “Bones of Birds,” which has the same sort of intricate musicianship that will call to mind past Soundgarden gems like “Blow Up the Outside World.” Returning to his principal band hasn’t reactivated his muse -- his subsequent work has had its strong points as well -- but it’s hard not to conclude that Soundgarden best suits his particular strengths as a deeply emotive and vaguely cryptic frontman.
'King Animal' - Bottom Line
Often when bands reunite for a new album, they make a show of trying to mimic their past hits or wowing us with their newfound maturity. Happily, King Animal
chooses neither path. The dark, heavy riffs instantly mark this record as the work of Soundgarden, but it’s a slightly different unit, even if the individual members haven’t changed. There’s a little rust, but if these guys want to continue as a band, King Animal
suggests there’s plenty of room for them to keep growing and evolving.
'King Animal' - Best Tracks:
“Non-State Actor” (Purchase/Download
“Blood on the Valley Floor” (Purchase/Download
“Worse Dreams” (Purchase/Download
“Bones of Birds” (Purchase/Download
Release date – November 13, 2012