Soundgarden - King Animal - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Soundgarden - King Animal

by Miz DeShannon Rating:7 Release Date:2012-11-12

They're back. After 15 years, we're party to the sounds of Soundgarden again. Okay, there've been a few dabblings by Cornell over the years, namely in the form of the rather good Audioslave and a Bond theme tune too, but this is the full package. How good it is, though, is another matter. The comeback single and album opener, 'Been Away Too Long' (The title being hugely obvious, although apparently not directly about the comeback. Hmm.) is everything expected: All those signature Seattle riffs and wails...

Listening to Chris Cornell is something one could do all day. I mean, who didn't love all of Badmotorfinger? Admittedly, it was their early years and was full of heavy, intricate riffs, and subsequent albums Superunknown and Down on the Upside saw more of their grungy, technically wonderful, sexy sounding rock but without the thrashing angst sneaking in. Fifteen years down the line and they can still play, proven by a recent performance of the immense 'Rusty Cage' on Jools Holland's show. But can they still write? This is the question. Cornell did say that a reunion would risk tarnishing their legacy (and his dodgy solo r&b output didn't?!).

After a solid opener (excuse the generic and patronisingly positive terminology), which is reasonably good with a harmonious middle-eighth and some heavy basslines, King Animal seems to be essentially an eclectic mix of their old styles, their later styles and some new (or maybe not new as they more than likely 'did it' first) influences thrown in. 'Non-State Actor', 'By Crooked Steps' and 'Attrition' are far better than the opener, boasting strong riffs, driving bass and delivering much more of a simple, straightforward rock-out. The latter is even a little bit QOTSA at times.

Super-heavy 'Blood on the Valley Floor' kicks off with Ben Shepherd's bass again. Thoughtful and sensual, it has a feel of Mastodon's latest offering, The Hunter. It's as though the two bands have met in the middle of grunge and metal and become a harmonious 'one' when listening to this track.

What could risk become monotonous and formulaic, however, is broken up with 'A Thousand Days Before', on which the music is rolling and melodic with a delicate sitar intro and a guitar part to follow suit, while Cornell's vocals are less shouty, more focussed and soaring. Then there's more prettiness in 'Bones of Birds', which takes a sneaky pinch at the disposable pop-acts of late, stating they're "too weak to survive". Now this really is taking it back to the mid 90s - such a familiar smoochy feeling just like that of 'Black Hole Sun' (1994). 'Black Saturday' has more of that Superunknown vibe, the one that makes the hairs stand up on your arms. It's the harmonies and the slow-rolling drums that do it. Great stuff.

The failure of the album, despite being played out on good old Jools, is 'Taree'. There's something a bit cheesy and thoughtless about the vocal melodies in comparison to the rest of the album, although there are some nice touches in the background and solo guitar parts. It's definitely a grower.

A departure from all of the above is 'Halfway There'. Remarkably chirpy and upbeat, this is definitely sung in a higher key. It's very un-grunge and summery, and something about it reminds me of The Presidents of the USA hit 'Peaches', but in a good way - most likely the intermittent acoustic guitar. Not straying from the norm for too long, 'Worse Dreams' and 'Eyelid's Mouth' bring it back to those signature rock sounds, allbeit a little standard but still exciting. Then with some beautifully unusual bass strumming a la Tool and an immense final guitar solo, 'Rowing' finishes off the album in a smooth, technically adept style that really can't be argued with.

King Animal doesn't really do what Jane's Addiction's The Great Escape Artist did, blowing me away at the first play, but the grunge kings' output was always preferable for me in their early days, and Jane's Addiction have always been known for stadium sounding explosiveness. So, after all that initial pessimism, for a hardcore Badmotorfinger fan it took a few listens, and, despite being at times more like Superunknown, once the thoughtfulness and musicianship is noticed, there's not a lot to complain about at all.

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