• Sat, Sep 22, 2018
Reviews

Soundgarden - King Animal

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album Reviews Dec 03, 03:54pm

AKHIL SOOD Back when I was an angsty teenager discovering teenage angst-inducing ’90s music, aka grunge,

AKHIL SOOD

Back when I was an angsty teenager discovering teenage angst-inducing ’90s music, aka grunge, Chris Cornell was one of my (many) heroes. I thought he was a poet, man. The 25-year-old me has belatedly realized that he’s…well, let’s just say he’s not quite the gifted wordsmith I once thought he was. ‘Moving is breathing and breathing is life/ stopping is dying… (you be alright)’ is one particular cringe-worthy gem on King Animal, Soundgarden’s first release proper since ’96. That’s the trouble with reunions; it can shatter illusions carefully preserved over years of denial and nostalgia.

Thankfully, the album largely safeguards the rest of my notions about Soundgarden; they still got it. They succeed in suggesting the idea that they had a lot left in them before they abruptly called it quits all those years ago; and King Animal marks a respectable comeback, leaving aside the superfluous lyrics and the constant self-references (the album opens with ‘Been Away Too Long’ for starters).

Kim Thayil screams through with his artful duplicity on the six-string, adding that slightly eastern dynamic – that he and Cornell had developed – to their frenetic sound driven by intense riffs and Cornell’s stirring melodic yowls on the mic. The ballady ‘Bones of Birds’, again with nauseatingly tormented word-trickery – about ‘time’ and ‘building a home’ and being ‘too weak to survive’ or something – manages to steal the show, with the trademark soft-hard dynamic of grunge going strong as ever, infused with Soundgarden’s additional chops on their respective instruments. The one thing that marks the album as not just another attempt to cash in on and tarnish a legacy (think former socialist crusaders Rage Against the Machine touring and re-releasing old shit and steering clear of actually writing anything new after reforming or Alice in Chains replacing Layne Staley with Layne Staley Mk II, although I still haven’t quite made up my mind about AIC just yet), but an actual expression of thoughts that had been gestating for over a decade is this desire that led them to craft 13 powerful songs that still retain that overindulgent and sensitive quality of sound and emotion that Soundgarden had cultivated. And yet, it’s not just a rehash of previously successful formulae. King Animal could almost be a logical next step that Soundgarden should have taken in ’97 – they’re 15 years too late with it, and they’ve been stuck in a time warp, but they’re still moving forward.

Sure, the narrative of the album is uneven, with the odd sore thumb sticking out, and it’s largely driven by ponderous mid-tempo songs that gently trudge along, much like their now middle-aged personas, but it’s still some kind of evolution. The fluidity of the music – driven in no small part  by Ben Shepherd’s elegant and languid bass playing (‘Rowing’ for one) – makes the lengthy album easy listening and, a nostalgia-tinted view it may be, but Soundgarden are still trying to tell their listeners a story, right from the action packed introductory burst of energy kicking off the album to the soulful and mellifluous conclusion. And hey, it’s not like all the additional cash they’re raking in doesn’t help, right? Ben Shepherd is most likely not sleeping on friends’ couches anymore.

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