Back in the early and mid nineties, I was always mesmerized by the video clips from Soundgarden. Especially ‘Black Hole Sun’, ‘Blow Up The Outside World’ and ‘Burden In My Head’ made quite impression on me back in the day. The band broke up soon after the release of “Down On The Upside” (1997). In the post Soundgarden days, only Chris Cornell and Matt Cameron managed to stay in the spotlight. Cornell went on fronting Audioslave and releasing albums on his own name and Cameron became the drummer for fellow Seattle grungers Pearl Jam. Ben Shepherd and Kim Thayil lived their lives in relative anonymity. In 2010 the band decided to reunite and two years later Cornell and Co are back with a new album, entitled “King Animal”.
Guitarist Kim Thayil told the press they weren’t interested in making another metal (read: Louder Than Love/Badmotorfinger) or grunge (read: Superunknown) record and I must say they kept their word on “King Animal”. If anything the new Soundgarden album reminds me of the diversity and song-oriented approach of “Down On The Upside” and the pop music sensibilities of Chris Cornell’s “Euphoria Morning” record. This may not be to the liking for the people clamoring for another “Badmotorfinger” or “Superunknown”. I doubt whether the Soundgarden gents could muster the anger and angst required to make such records again. Cornell and Co have mellowed down over the years and that shows on “King Animal”.
Soundgarden forged the perfect rock album for a lazy Sunday afternoon. Besides ‘Been Away For Too Long’ and punk rock infused ‘Attrition’ any truly hard driving moments are far and few in between. The album does feature some heavier songs, most notably in the form of ‘Worse Dreams’, ‘Eyelids Move’, ‘Non State Actor’ and ‘By Crooked Steps’. These songs could easily been included on “Superunknown” or “Down On The Upside”, but none of them can quite touch the charm and class of ‘Fell Back On Black Days’, ‘Fourth Of July’, ‘Fresh Tendrils’, ‘Burden In My Hand’ or ‘Blow Up The Outside World’. ‘Halfway There’ comes across as a poorly attempted remake of ‘Spoonman’. ‘Taree’ and ‘Black Saturday’ are basically filler songs with Chris Cornell sounding either completely bored out of his skull or simply realising that he has become a mere shadow of his former self. Ben Shepherd and Matt Cameron acquit themselves well on respectively bass and drums and Kim Thayil delivers some solid leads and solos here and there.
My main gripe with “King Animal” is that Cornell and Co sound so dull and uninspired. The album sounds more like a contractual obligation than a band who’s fired up and ready to go after a sixteen year absence. There are flashes of brilliance to be found on “King Animal” and there’s a lot to say for not desperately trying to copy old success formulas and going for a more contemporary sound instead. However, the lack of creative hunger and energy is simply disturbing. Granted, “King Animal” is a whole lot better than Cornell’s last two records with Audioslave and his last two solo albums. However, as a whole “King Animal” is simply unsatisfying, especially with the rest of the Soundgarden discography in mind. Perhaps they could listen to the latest albums from The Cult and Killing Joke and learn a thing or two…