Soundgarden retains its classic sound

By Max Sullivan
On November 30, 2012

Some bands are like your favorite television comedy. You hope that, after three seasons, the writers don't recklessly shift the story to make things interesting. What's captivating is what is already there. You want new ideas in the old environment.
This is Soundgarden. Their sound isn't quite as inertial as the Ramones or AC/DC, but when the grunge heroes announced that King Animal would be released this November, fans likely drew similar conclusions: "This better sound like Soundgarden."
Well, it does. It's not a subpar Chris Cornell solo record. Neither is it milk toast Audioslave.
King Animal sounds like the band that made Superunknown and Down on the Upside, 15 years later.
In a way, that 15-year gap grants the band a lot of leeway. No one expects them to provide any more tracks for their greatest hits list. For the most part, the songs on King Animal don't come close to doing so. Even the opener and single, "Been Away Too Long," a catchy rocker, is not nearly as memorable as "Rusty Cage," "Let Me Drown" or "Pretty Noose," the starting tracks from the previous three Soundgarden releases.
Just because Soundgarden isn't quite as fresh as it was a decade and half ago, however, it doesn't make them obsolete. Since their breakup, no band has duplicated their sound, and it has left a void that's gone mostly unnoticed until King Animal's release. When I put on the new record's "A Thousand Days Before," and Kim Thayil's unmistakable layers of guitar come through as otherworldly as ever, I feel the sort of relief that comes with seeing an old friend after far too long.
Likewise, on "By Crooked Step," when Cornell calls out shrilly "Now I'm looking for a better side," in a fashion not heard since the last track of Down on the Upside, I realize that, after 15 years of listening to the same Soundgarden albums, something new from this band is still very much welcome.
These moments of brilliance, scattered throughout the album, are the reason Soundgarden fans love this band. Their records were never about two-minute singles. They aren't Nirvana, where, with "Nevermind," hit after three minute hit pounds you in the face.
Soundgarden records are meant to submerge you in a sound that can only be summoned by these four men. Cornell had some great moments with Audioslave, but when he's teamed with Thayil, his highest shrieks and his deepest drones are at their melodic bests, sounds that occur again and again on King Animal.
Even more importantly, Thayil's fascination with watery, washing guitar effects à la Black Hole Sun» and Eastern influences have been sorely missed for the past decade. The guitarist›s ideas still seem fresh. At 52 years old, he remains the only player making these sounds, and he still serves as Soundgarden›s X-factor.
The new Soundgarden record isn›t meant to be a collection of new hits, and it doesn›t shift direction from the band›s traditional sound. Like with the TV show you pray never changes, it serves as another unique portal into the band›s known creativity. King Animal is the comeback of a beloved sound we thought might never return. It is in no way a necessity, but it is certainly a pleasure.

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