Originally published in The Hindu Sunday Magazine on December 9, 2012
Soundgarden – King Animal
Rs. 189 (MP3)
Look at your life and think about what has changed in the last 16 years. Probably a lot, and you’ve gone through it all without hearing from Seattle grunge rockers Soundgarden release any new material. 13 of those years were when the band was on hiatus. Well, at least it’s called a hiatus in retrospect, though they were known to have broken up.
So when vocalist Chris Cornell sings “I’ve been away for too long” on the first track ‘Been Away Too Long’ it’s the best embrace a band can give you on its return. If the band ever had any explanations to give about their disappearance, this song is their crutch.
Their sixth album King Animal makes for a great return, and the sound (thankfully) doesn’t borrow a single bit from Cornell’s previous solo efforts or songwriting with Rage Against The Machine members for Audioslave. The first six songs on this 13-track album are the strongest, with fuzzy guitars from Kim Thayil and hard-hitting drum work from Matt Cameron and bass to match from Ben Shepherd. And then of course, there are Cornell’s unmistakable vocals, screamed and crooned, like on ‘By Crooked Steps’, ‘Non-State Actor’ and ‘Taree’. Thayil brings out the psychedelic, the acoustic and everything classically grunge on songs like the tanpura-driven (yes, tanpura, considering Thayil’s Indian roots) ‘A Thousand Days Before’. A jaded-day drenched in melancholy finds its soundtrack in ‘Bones Of Birds’ and then there’s the more groovy ‘Black Saturday’.
The band oscillates between alt-grunge-ing about mediocrity in ‘Halfway There’ (Cornell posits “Did almost become good enough? Should a good life be so hard won? Is that what our dreams have become?”) and the downright psychedelic rock on ‘Worse Dreams’, including Cornell’s famous near-endless scream.
There are a few misses on King Animal, but the return to form signals that 2012 has been kind to comebacks. Earlier this year it was the Smashing Pumpkins (who had never actually left) and now it’s Soundgarden. If you are drawing up your best-of-the-year list, make way for a last-minute entry in King Animal.