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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Album Review: Soundgarden – King Animal

Way back in 1997, when innovative grunge-monsters announced their decision to disband, they left an almighty hole which only singer came close to filling with his hit-and-miss attempts at a solo career and daring adventures with . Consequentially, the hullaballoo surrounding their announcement of a reunited front was inevitable and now it has come to pass that their sixth studio album, King Animal, is upon us. It is, of course, the official stamp that marks their recent sell-out shows as more than just a tease, but does it live up to the outrageous expectations that have been placed upon it?

Of course, acknowledging the 16 years that have passed since the release of Down On The Upside, their last album of original material, means their lyrical statement of a lead single (and opening track), “Been Away Too Long”, was not so much an inevitably as it was a necessity. Its cyclical, driven rock riff and sharp, vocal hook take down that hulking elephant in the room and the doubters with it. From here onwards, King Animal laudably sets about ticking box after box, building up a body of work that marks out a natural progression from the point where the band downed tools.

The album’s natural touchstones are Superunknown and, interestingly, Euphoria Morning (Cornell’s first solo effort) with the band offering up a selection of more mature, honed and direct music. The -like pinged arpeggio and funk pump of “Non-State Actor” and rotational grind of “By Crooked Steps” are fine examples of how to get our attention and hold it. Although there are songs that dip their toes in melancholy (“Bones Of Birds”, a fine example), the band’s tendency to throw out the occasional muscular, subversive side-swipe is all but gone. Bassist Ben Shepard’s dark flights of fancy have also been weeded out from the foreground but you’ll still find similar, if a little softer, experimentation at the album’s alternate ending – the sultry bass riff and beautiful vocal layering of “Eyelid’s Mouth” and the mesmeric, back-and-forth repetition of “Rowing” form the shadows lurking in wait if you happen to stumble in too deep.

Such is the intelligence of the lyrics that every now and then you’ll catch a word that has been used before in their back catalogue – a neat psychological trick that shows off the band’s attention to detail. The glorious ethnic roller “A Thousand Days Before” alone serves fair indication of this and that’s not even taking Cornell’s rich, echoing and carefully graded delivery into consideration. Shining stars like “Taree”, a track which muddies up the guitars and serves up a real two-toned treat, the smooth acoustic wash of “Black Saturday”, and the elegantly-melodic “Halfway There” are hearty enough fare to keep you nodding along.

Okay, so there’s the odd misplaced blob of filler, like the one-dimensional pop of “Attrition” and “Worse Dreams” with its misplaced feedback scrawl and sugary chorus (and the deluxe material is very much “collectors only” quality), but otherwise King Animal is a little slice of wish fulfillment. They may not be as exciting or dynamic as they once were, Cornell’s delivery may be a tad weaker, but the band have compensated by cleanly fusing drive to emotion; breathing fresh air into old lungs; integrating a beguiling flow to their music. It’s this serene, rhythmic pulse that gently tugs us back along their career path, effortlessly building a bridge over that almighty hole. By crooked steps, indeed.



Also online @ The NewReview = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/soundgarden-king-animal
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