I want to fall head over heals with the fact that Soundgarden have finally released new material. I want to have been able to be completely engrossed with the band's reuinion at the start of 2010 after twelve years apart, but my music taste was far too based on worse glossier bands to know anything about the respectable history of rock music and when finally got into them, I was so adjusted to the golden age of their sound that further new releases, footage of fairly disappointing live shows including this year's Download and Hard Rock Calling Festival and most recently a preview of what they might sound like through the release of the watered down Live to Rise that appeared as the lead single for The Avengers soundtrack this year. In the time it's taken for me to appreciate Soundgarden, it seems like they've lost their shine and it's difficult for me to see them as a perfect band no matter how brilliant they've constantly proved themselves to be.
And so it brings me to King Animal. Now when a band comes to release a highly anticipated comeback album, you do want to love it, especially when it's been as long as sixteen years. But, I made the choice not to step into this album with any high expectations knowing the kind of form Soundgarden has been on recently. And with their sixth studio album, I sadly can't come out the other side with the blown mind and shattered expectations I was hoping I might have.
Which isn't to say it doesn't have it's moment. Opening on the painfully self-aware Been Away Too Long, dirty grunge riffs are unloaded like it's 1993 again which blast straight into an enthusiastic state of action through roaring hooks lit up by a genuinely immense wail from Chris Cornell that shows that the band haven't loss any passion for making music as ferocious and passionate as they can. It's a bold statement by a band whose best days have quite clearly gone by that there is still some fight left in them, a moment that makes you say that they've matured rather than say they've aged. Even through the likes of Non-State Actor and Blood on the Valley Floor, (A better floor for blood to lie on than the Dancefloor, right?) Cornell proves himself to still be a truly entertaining performer with much charisma, while the distinct Eastern style lead guitar of Kim Thayil on the likes of Attrition and Taree is as breathtaking display of modern gripping rock and roll that treads the line between monstrous grunge and trippy stoner rock guitar work it ever was. There's no possible way that Soundgarden can't still be a great rock band and powerful emotional songwriters.
But even in the strongest of Soundgarden's albums, they've always been albums that go maybe one or two tracks over the line. Superunknown could easily lose three or four tracks and still be a great if not better album but you can easily forgive it for the strongest moments being absolutely golden. With King Animal, the ultimate impression of the album is that if you got the strongest tracks on the album... it would be an EP. The likes of Bones of Birds and Halfway There are pleasant enough but Badmotorfinger and Superunknown have no room for pleasantries and becoming older shouldn't be a reason to do it either. I feel genuinely worried when Cornell says "Promise something/ kill me right away if I start to get slow" in the opening lines of Black Saturday. I couldn't bring myself to kill someone. It's tracks like these that Soundgarden immediately sounding aged. Cornell's vocals sound staler in the same way that Ozzy Osbourne's became stale after the '90's. And I'm confident that the band really is trying their hardest. And that just scares me, frankly.
With that, I personally find myself walking away from King Animal feeling once again more unsatisfied with Soundgarden than I really should be. It undoubtedly has it's strong moments and many a moment to prove the band to be a group of accomplished songwriters, but these moments don't come in high numbers and the amount of songs sounding as tame as their recent festival performances are sadly plentiful. If this is how I feel, then I can't imagine how the people that were fully gripped by the news of the band's comeback in 2010 must feel about the kind of overall performance on this album. It means I'll probably never have the chance to consider myself a full-on Soundgarden fan that I'd love to be, but if the overall quality of their albums are like this in my time of being into them, can you really blame me?
Soundgarden's King Animal is out now via Universal Republic Records.