Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Soundgarden - King Animal: HEAD MEDICINE'S 2012 Comeback of the Year

when we last heard from Soundgarden, it was on 1996's "Down on the Upside," and the fading notes of the last track, the Floydian "Boot Camp," drifted off into the ether as cornell yearned, "there must be something else/there must be something good/far away/far away from here."  those lyrics would prove to be prophetic when, after a staggeringly fruitful 13 years together, Soundgarden fractured and its members left to find their own musical identities.   Cornell left to travel down a variety of well documented musical paths, and Matt Cameron kept busy as the drummer of Pearl Jam, while Kim Thayil and Ben Shepherd seemed to walk off into the musical void, rarely to be heard from again.  There never seemed to be any animosity between the band members, but a reunion always seemed unlikely tho never completely out of the question.  the seeds for an official reunion were planted when Thayil, Cameron, and Shepherd, on stage together for the first time in over a decade, performed "Hunted Down," "Nothing To Say," and "Spoonman" with  Tad Doyle at Tom Morello's  Justice Tour at the Crocodile Cafe in Seattle in 2009.  Cornell, critically and commercially reeling from a disastrous collaboration with hip hop and r&b producer Timbaland, caught wind of the performance.  Soon, the planets aligned and the Soundgarden juggernaut was awakened from it's 14 year slumber, ready to reclaim it's throne.  A series of live shows cemented the relevancy of a Soundgarden reunion, and the anticipation was high for King Animal, an album of all new material.

i knew it was going to be a good album, i had no doubt about that.  but i wasn't expecting an album that would be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with the classic work in the band's catalog.  and i was ok with that. but it turned out that King Animal was a fucking fantastic album...  a throwback to all of those early-mid 90's rock masterpieces that were routinely being created--bold, cocky, ambitious, fearlessly creative and highly individualistic.  Soundgarden always had a singular, distinctive voice, never recycling cliches or painting themselves into a creative corner, it was the alchemy between the four members of Soundgarden that made Soundgarden sound like Soundgarden, and King Animal rose up and continued the tradition.   Amazingly, the band is still in top form: Cornell has somehow dodged Father Time, sounding better than at any point since  Soundgarden dissolved.  Cameron is still a drumming machine, well oiled from years of global Pearl Jam tours.  Thayil emerged from the shadows looking like Gandalf the Grey, still conjuring all of those odd riffs and harmonics.  And Ben Shepherd rolled in, looking like something the cat dragged in, yet ready to get down to business. 

and like all of the Soundgarden albums before it, King Animal is full of magical musical moments.. the absolutely no-fucking around, diamond-hard grooves of "Non-State Actor" and "By Crooked Steps"... the exotic Zeppelin-esque travelogue "A Thousand Days Before," with it's sitar intro, subtle horn arrangements, and Cameron's intricate, jazzy drumlines... The ominous clouds rolling in on "Blood on the Valley Floor" is prime Soundgarden and, as they have always done so well, for a brief moment the clouds open up and reveal a glimpse of a pure pop chorus before the gloomy tentacles wrap it up and drag it off never to be heard from again...  The dark beauty of "Bones of Birds" and "Taree"...  classic arena anthems "Black Saturday" and "Worse Dreams"... and "Eyelid Mouth" shows that the band is as beautifully weird as ever.

But the album's undeniably greatest moment is the closing track, "Rowing."  an odd bit of Shepherd's bass noodling sets the mood, while Cameron comes in with a "When the Levee Breaks" drum beat.  Cornell's unforgettable mantra, "Don't know where i'm going/i'll just keep on rowing/i just keep on pulling/gotta row," as the music swells like a swirling storm, just might be his finest lyrics and melody.  the song sticks on repeat in your head and it seems to sum up all that is great and perfect about this reunion... this isn't a nostalgic cash grab, this is four musical brothers picking up exactly where they left off and continuing that relentless creative drive that made their past work so enduring, to keep on moving forward at all times, never slowing down, never stopping, and never looking back.   something the band has always specialized in.  it's good to have em back.

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