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 anything new from Soundgarden, Seattle grunge rockers.
For 13 of those years the band was on hiatus. Well, it’s called a hiatus in retrospect, though they had 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.
Their sixth album King Animal makes for a great return and the sound (thankfully) doesn’t borrow from Cornell’s previous solo efforts or songwriting for Audioslave with Rage Against The Machine. 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. Then, of course, there are Cornell’s unmistakable vocals on ‘By Crooked Steps’, ‘Non-State Actor’ and ‘Taree’.
Thayil brings out the psychedelic, the acoustic and everything 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’; 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 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 actually never 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.
Bottomline: The best a band can give you on its return.
King Animal; Soundgarden, Soundgarden Recordings, Rs. 189.