Soundgarden – King Animal (Mercury/Universal) CD REVIEW

SOUNDGARDEN? REALLY? IN the light of Chris Cornell’s disastrous solo career, does anyone really have hope that the group’s first album in over 15 years will be of any consequence? Come to think of it, after Badmotorfinger (1991), did they ever do anything good? Hang on a minute, isn’t it true that ‘Jesus Christ Pose’ and ‘Rusty Cage’ were the singular high points of their career, and that even the rest of that ‘seminal’ album pales by comparison?
Yes, those songs were mighty slabs of rage, although to these ears, they always sounded more metal than punk (read: grunge), and while they were anthems, there was a certain one-dimensionality to them, as well. In retrospect, it’s easy to see why Nirvana’s Nevermind from the same year has retained a sense of life, because it felt real, while Cornell’s presentation was theatrical, and the band drilled in metal tropes.
Still, I was curious about King Animal. Would they, could they, conjure up anything that came anywhere near the majestic rage and fury of the their formative years?
The first few tracks sounds promising, and try hard to get a full head of steam, with Cornell’s rutting hairy boar of a voice doing what it does over the pneumatic sturm and drang.
But by the fourth track, they’re already trying to add some spice with a sound that’s close to ‘60s raga-psych, while not quite pulling it off.
It’s all okay, but there’s something airbrushed about the whole thing, something not quite real, as though the fancier guitar parts (provided by Kim Thayil) were airlifted in after the fact to add colour and texture to the sound; and the drums sound so perfect that you wonder how much auto-correction went on after the fact. It’s like the sweat and the wrinkles have been siphoned into a cryogenic sweatsuit.
Those great heavy riffs still come pounding down occasionally, but the sound as a whole lacks that big, brutal, brooding, slightly menacing atmosphere – it’s like a modern, clean-skin version. That said, Cornell comes up with some nice lines, and the group are still unafraid of using a quiet/loud dynamic and the odd minor chord – although both are redolent of Nirvana as well.
On the other hand, there’s too much here that sounds exactly like hundreds of other ordinary American hard rock bands currently treading the boards. ‘Halfway There’ is a case in point: it’s a bit too soft-cock, too melodic for its own good, too conformist.
The freshest moments are saved until last. On ‘Eyelid’s Mother’, there’s an almost call-and-response blues/gospel quality that really lifts it, and ‘Rowing’ has a really earthy blues feel.
King Animal is that awkward beast: a record that doesn’t really justify its existence, and won’t go down as anything more than a reasonably well aimed stab in the dark, but one that fans will probably relish, regardless. GARY STEEL

Sound = 3.5
Music = 3

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