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REVIEW: Soundgarden picks up right where they left off with 'King Animal'

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After receiving my copy of Soundgarden’s long-awaited new release King Animal, it suddenly dawned on me: it doesn’t really seem like it, this band has not made a studio album in almost 20 years!

The fact that two of the four band members have stayed in the realm of public awareness since Soundgarden’s 1997 breakup always had fans holding out hope that a reunion was a possibility. Frontman Chris Cornell joined Tom Morello and members of Rage Against the Machine (minus Zack de la Rocha) to form Audioslave while also releasing several solo albums and soundtrack songs, while drummer Matt Cameron replaced Pearl Jam’s Jack Irons for the group’s 1998 tour and he never left the group.Photo: consequenceofsound.net

Despite the varying success of some of Soundgarden’s band members over the years, Cornell announced the group’s reformation on New Year’s Day 2010 and the band hasn’t broken stride since. Although the band has been active on the touring circuit, Soundgarden was very careful not to rush into recording, deciding instead to focus on recapturing the band dynamic while crafting a respectful follow-up to 1996’s Down on the Upside.

And the results seem to have paid off.

In fact, one listen to Animal and you can easily be taken back to the band’s heyday- and that’s a good thing if you’re a Soundgarden fan. The metallic nuances of Superunknown  are present on such songs as “Non-State Actor” and the explosive and odd-time signature laden “Worse Days.”  For you long-time Soundgarden fans, the heavy “Blood on the Valley Floor” even harkens back to the days of Batmotorfinger.

While some of their songs lack the pop sensibility of some of their grunge contemporaries like Stone Temple Pilots or even Pearl Jam, Soundgarden were always the most talented, and that’s clearly evident on Animal.  At 48, Cornell still maintains some (but not all) of his 4-octave vocal range, shining on album standouts like the melancholic and dreary “Bones of Birds” as well as “A Thousand Days Before,” which fits into the mold of the more melodic Upside.  Meanwhile, lead guitarist Kim Thayil continues to wail away with perpetual sonic brilliance on “By Crooked Steps” and the driving “Taree,” and the rhythm section of bassist Ben Shepherd and virtuoso Cameron speaks for itself, particularly on the album’s final two tracks; “Eyelid’s Mouth,” and “Rowing.”

King Animal works because Soundgarden doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel or venture into unchartered territory with it. At the same time, they manage to pull it off without sounding like a nostalgia act. While the album won’t likely match the legendary status of Superunknown, it contains all the elements that made you like Soundgarden in the first place. Their most dedicated fans will appreciate Animal as well as their most casual listeners.

With a decade plus of no new music to speak of, Soundgarden, as Cornell sings on the album’s lead single, had “been away for too long.” It’s great to have them back.

Watch for Soundgarden at The Tower Theatre on January 19th. Tickets go on sale soon!

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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Album photo: lamusicblog.com

Band photo: consequenceofsound.net