Producer: Adam Kasper, Soundgarden
When I first heard that Soundgarden, my favorite of the early ’90’s Grunge bands, were returning from a 16-year hiatus and were going to write their first album in over a decade, I was ecstatic. I’ve always loved the sweet sound of the Soundgarden’s complex, intricate riffs that somehow layered themselves to form that unique, compact, grungy sound. News of their return almost sent me into the stratosphere.
Unlike Metallica, who mostly stayed active during the ’90’s and early 2000’s, Soundgarden, like fellow Grunge giants, Nirvana and Alice In Chains, disbanded not long after the explosion of the Grunge scene subsided by the mid-’90’s. Nirvana would obviously never return with a comeback album, but Alice in Chains did release their fourth studio album, Black Gives Way to Blue, with a new singer in late 2009. So, I spent the following years from 2009 to 2011 wondering if my favorite Grunge band would do the same. The rest is history.
Much like AIC’s comeback record, Soundgarden’s return is a solid effort and a welcome re-invigoration for modern rock ‘n roll, though also like Black Gives Way to Blue, it is far from a knockout success. Probably the best thing about King Animal (KA) is that it is relatively consistent from beginning to end. Sure, “Attrition” is pretty boring and forgettable, but most every other song has either some memorable melodic aspect to it, or some impressive musical layering or bass riff construction that carries each song. Pretty much every song is catchy in its own way without being too shallow. Chris Cornell’s voice has aged considerably, although this may be a blessing in disguise, as he refrains from the loud, over-the-top wailings reminiscent of older Soundgarden albums. Sadly though, Kim Thayil’s expert soloing abilities are underused in KA.
Probably the biggest problem with Soundgarden’s latest album is that it lacks any single, standout track that’s truly…well, outstanding. “Been Away for Too Long,” “By Crooked Steps,” and “Taree” are all quality tracks, but none have knockout power in their riffs, which is a disappointment. There is no “Black Hole Sun” or “Burden in My Hand” here. It’s too bad, because like I said, the album is built pretty consistently from top to bottom, and the general overall sound of the record glues the songs together in a method that serves as a singular, overarching them for the record, without having all the songs sound the same. If KA had had at least one spectacular single, I’m pretty sure that it would’ve catapulted the album into truly exceptional territory. As it stands now, KA feels like a good effort, but also seems incomplete without a leading anthem.
I’m still glad to report that Soundgarden is back, and back in fine form, though. The modern rock world is made richer just by their active presence. King Animal definitely isn’t a home run for the Grunge chiefs of old, but for now, it’s more than enough to sate the quality alternative rock appetites of the world.
Standout Tracks: None
? Been away for too long, indeed.