Anxious to bag, tag, and play “King Animal”

(I wrote an incredibly deep and moving intro to this, but it all disappeared when I posted it. So, here is the shorter version.) I came to Soundgarden very late, just a few years ago, having (wisely) mostly dismissed the meaninglessly named “grudge” movement of the early 1990s. The only Seattle group I listened to c. 1991 was Queensrÿche, whose brilliant “Empire” came out around the same time as Nirvana’s overrated album, the very aptly named “Nevermind” (exactly right, boys). I am now a staunch Soundgarden advocate, convinced that Chris Cornell is not only one of the finest rock vocalists of the past thirty years, but also one of the finest songwriters of the same era. He also has some proggy tricks up his sleeves. More on that in future posts. For now, here is a fine preview/review of the band’s new album, “King Animal”, due out in early November; it was written by Clare O’Brien and posted on the “Chris Cornell News” blog:

The cover of Soundgarden’s new album depicts a pile of bones, arranged almost ritualistically within a snowy forest clearing. And although rock music is no stranger to the gothic, this doesn’t come over as the usual kind of heavy-metal art cliché. It suggests not so much the trophies of an unseen hunter as something unearthed by an archaeologist – something powerful left underground, now brought to the surface and bathed in the light of a new winter’s morning.
It’s a good enough metaphor for a creative entity that’s been invisible for fifteen years. Although its individual members continued to work and make music during the band’s absence, there’s been much speculation about what kind of album they’d choose to make in 2012.  Would they do as others have done and try to recreate their own past? Or would they strike out in a new direction?
The answer isn’t a clear-cut one.  All four members of the band compose (Kim Thayil and Ben Shepherd even contribute a lyric each) and the songs are as varied as that might suggest. Hearing ‘King Animal’ is a bit like tracking a mysterious beast through a wilderness, encountering all kinds of different terrain, changing light and changing weather on the way.
The search begins with ‘Been Away Too Long’, which seems at first like a crowd-pleasing slice of AC/DC inspired rock triumphalism. On the surface, it screams “we’re back”, and it was the obvious choice for a first single. But look a little closer at this white-knuckle ride through the band’s origins, and disorientation and dysfunction aren’t far away. “You can’t go home, no I swear you never can….and no one knows me, no one saves me, no one loves or hates me.” Cornell has described this radio-friendly track as a “door” to what follows, and in spite of its accessibility, its violent riffing and oddly dreamlike middle section hint at the jagged complexities beyond.
What follows is one of the most varied musical explorations you’ll hear for some time. ‘Non-State  Actor’ has lyrics [mostly] by Kim Thayil which ooze an angry scepticism, riding uneasily on Shepherd’s restless musical undertow. It’s a thorny song, difficult to grasp, its twitching rhythms evoking a sense of paranoia and suspicion.  ‘By Crooked Steps’opens with a dreamy Beatles canvas of backwards tape effects and then hurls you under a furious jackhammer riff which never relents, while Cornell spins a looping, questioning melody – in a different time signature –  seamlessly over the top.
Read the entire review. And how about that cover art? Phew!

5 thoughts on “Anxious to bag, tag, and play “King Animal”

  1. carleolson

    Thaddeus: My recommendation is to listen to “Superunknown” from start to finish (about 70 minutes, I think). It covers the entire gamut lyrically and musically. The best-known cut is “Black Hole Sun” (Beatle-esque and psychedelic), but my favorite songs are “Mailman” (harrowing!), “Limo Wreck” (epic!), and “The Day I Tried to Live” (existential!). I’ll eventually post a list of my 50 or 100 Chris Cornell songs.

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  2. carleolson

    I count at least 14 albums of original material (not counting compilations and concert albums) by Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog, Audioslave, and solo. Cornell has also recorded quite a few songs for movie soundtracks; he has also guested on a number of cuts with other artists.

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