Overall Score: 7/10 Musicanship: 8/10 Variety in sound: 6/10 Seattle Glumness: 10/10 Pros: Retains everything that made Soundgarden so exciting first time around. Cons: Tempo barely changes, A few filler track too many.
Near the end of ‘King Animal’s tenth track ‘Halfway Down’ Chris Cornell sings “I would say you’re doing better than most, but not as well as some” and, intentionally or not, he sums up Soundgarden’s return as well as anyone ever could. It’s very rare that a band reform and immediately make the best work of their career after all, and ,due to some fairly lacklustre live shows over the summer, fans could be forgiven for approaching this first studio release since 1996’s ‘Down On The Upside’ with as much trepidation as excitement. The good news is they’ve pulled it off. Just.
Opening track ‘Been Away Too Long’ is a great start and sets a standard that the rest of the album struggles to live up to. It features everything that you want from Soundgarden, Kim Thayil’s unique eastern tinged guitar licks, a driving, powerful exchanged between Matt Cameron and Ben Shepherd, all topped off with Cornell’s gorgeous, honey roasted croon. ‘Non-State Actor’ and ‘By Crooked Steps’ follow in much the same vein and it feels like they’ve never been away. It’s only when ‘A Thousand Days Before’ sticks so rigidly to the same tempo as the three tracks before that you start to lose interest a little. Riffs and songs begin to blend into one, nothing really jumps out at you, Soundgarden start to sound their age. The age old comparison of Led Zepplin meets Black Sabbath are still relative, but this time it’s Led Zep III and only a sprinkle of Sabbath.
The albums other standout track is ‘Bones Of Birds’, a beautiful swooping and soaring Pop-Rock gem that sounds like a more relaxed ‘Black Hole Sun’. It’s here where Soundgarden really settle, leaving their noisy, Punk roots behind them and not forcing the issue. When they do attempt to revisit those roots, like on ‘Attrition’, they end up sounding like a pub band covering The Black Crowes.
Most importantly though, all the things that you love about Soundgarden are present and correct on this album. It should be judged as a success, and you imagine it will. You also imagine the songs will fit in nicely as the soundtrack to a Hollywood blockbuster, or be enough to earn the band Gold records and Grammy nominations. The only thing you can’t imagine is people heading to a Soundgarden concert and reacting to these songs in the same way as they do ‘Outshined’, ‘Spoonman’ or ‘Rusty Cage’. ‘King Animal’ is a fine album, but won’t be considered as a career defining moment in the same way as, say, Alice In Chains stunning Black Gives Way To Blue comeback. Still, as Chris Cornell himself says, they’re still doing better than most.