Feb 132013
 

What’s “too long” in rock and roll?

I suspect 16 years would likely qualify, but Soundgarden doesn’t sound like they missed a beat in the past decade and a half without releasing any new material.

King Animal, the band’s first album since 1996’s Down on the Upside, kicks off appropriately with the raging rocker, “Been Away Too Long.”

And, truth be told, as soon as the first words spew from Chris Cornell’s mouth – ‘you can’t go home, no/I swear you never can’ – you realize that it has truly been too long since these guys got together and jammed.

Soundgarden was always the black sheep kid brother of grunge purveyors Nirvana and Pearl Jam. They were noisy, unkempt (remember Cornell’s mane of black hair) and angrier than the more radio-friendly Seattle-area bands that broke big. I can only imagine being at one of the band’s early shows when they ripped through “Big Dumb Sex,” a visceral, almost violent anti-love song if ever there was one.

I still remember my first Soundgarden CD – a live EP of tracks off 1989’s Louder Than Love. And I bought the follow-up, 1991’s Badmotorfinger, on the day it was released. Those were the days when you would hole up in your room, headphones on, reading the liner lyrics to songs like “Rusty Cage,” “Outshined” and “Jesus Christ Pose.”

I didn’t begrudge Cornell & Co. when they finally broke in 1994 with Superunknown, their most accessible and commercial record, but I did get sick of “Black Hole Sun” after the 5,000th radio play and “Spoonman” just didn’t have the same staying power as past cuts.

Last summer, I totally geeked out when I realized that Soundgarden’s first new song since I was in my mid-20s (!) was attached to Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers,” and the track, “Live To Rise,” was a perfect anthem for the superhero epic. Cornell admitted in interviews that the decision was strategic – how many older bands release new material these days that fails to get the attention it deserves because mainstream radio sucks and MTV isn’t interested in promoting any band that was formed more than 6 months ago. This was an immediate opportunity to rejoin the collective music consciousness after nearly two decades away.

“Live to Rise” isn’t on King Animal, and that makes sense.

King Animal is less about a standout track and more about a pervasive feeling that permeates from its collective force. It’s almost, dare I say, a concept album. Even the strongest tracks– Been Away Too Long, Blood on the Valley Floor, A Thousand Days Before, Black Saturday – fold nicely into the larger canvas. You know how some albums, that one good song immediately stands out? This is not that album. It’s dense and rugged, like a detailed novel that doesn’t scrimp on long passages just to progress the plot.

The band’s signature sound hasn’t lost a step. If you close your eyes while listening, you’ll swear it’s 1991 all over again. Cornell’s voice is still as much a blunt instrument as Kim Thayil’s guitar or Matt Cameron’s drums. They may be older, but they haven’t lost that edge.

Even fans who liked Soundgarden’s more accessible hits like “Black Hole Sun” and “Fell on Black Days” will find something to enjoy here, particularly on tracks “Halfway There” and “Rowing”

King Animal  isn’t a cash-in. It’s not a reunion for these guys to feel relevant. Soundgarden remains a vital group with something to say.

Soundgarden – Been Away Too Long
Soundgarden – Blood on the Valley Floor
Soundgarden – Black Saturday

Soundgarden’s Official Site, Soundgarden on Facebook, Soundgarden on Spotify, Buy King Animal

John Allman

In 1975, my parents made a fateful decision, the first of many, that set me upon my chosen path. They took me with them to see "Jaws." In the bathroom, after the movie ended, my Dad said he heard a young voice saying over and over, "Smile you son of a bitch." He opened the stall door to find his 5-year-old son gleefully blasting the bowl with urine the way Roy Scheider blew up the air tank in the shark's mouth. Two years later, they took me with them to see the King, Elvis Presley, mere months before his unfortunate death. Elvis wasn't on his A game as he stumbled through a two-night, sold-out stand at the old Charlotte Colosseum. But we had floor seats, row 22, and my mother was shrieking like a schoolgirl. Women everywhere in the arena were freaking out. I just remember thinking, why is the big man in the jumpsuit cussing so much on stage? That's right - Jaws and Fat Elvis, my earliest memories of film and music, two defining moments in my young life. Today, thankfully, I have evolved from those humble beginnings to have an appreciation for most cinematic and musical genres. But my heart remains rooted in those formative years. I still love horror more than any other type of movie, and I choose to remember Elvis from his Sun Records days, long before the white jumpsuit, when he was full of swagger and fire, helping build a label defined by the all-time greats.

  4 Responses to “SOUNDGARDEN — KING ANIMAL”

  1. Couldn’t disagree more with this. Admittedly as a punk/hardcore kid I never liked them but this record sounds dated and nostalgic not in a good way. The main demographic that still buys music are the now 30-40 something professionals that grew up this music and this record sounds like something aimed directly at them not a band with anything left to say.

  2. Superunknown? Broke up in 1994? Really? You can’t be bothered to even look at Wikipedia? Down on the Upside was their final album and they broke up in 1997. And I couldn’t disagree with ‘Nick’ more – the new songs fit right in when I saw them live a couple weeks ago…

  3. I saw them for the first time in January, somehow I missed then live in the 90′s. Cornell’s voice sounded a bit weak at the beginning of the show but by the end when it had warmed up he sounded outstanding. I agree with your review. I hope they keep producing new material.

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