2 stars (out of 4)
Soundgarden’s bulldozer riffs were rarely served straight. And so it goes on the best moments from the quartet’s first album since 1996, “King Animal” (Seven Four Entertainment/Republic Records). Even as the hard-charging “Been Away Too Long” flirts with hard-rock convention, it never succumbs – unsettling textures flicker in and out of the Neanderthal stomp.
All of which testifies to the ongoing inventiveness of the band’s core ‘90s lineup: drummer Matt Cameron finds the groove in even the zaniest time signatures; Ben Shepherd plays bass lines that clear out the carnage; and Kim Thayil’s guitar never met a metal cliché it couldn’t twist into something strange. But there’s not enough of the band on “King Animal,” with a few exceptions: the all-enveloping black cloud of “Non-State Actor,” the menacing slow burn of “Eyelids Mouth,” the Eastern-tinged psychedelia of “A Thousand Days Before.”
Otherwise, this feels a lot like the Chris Cornell show. After wasted years in wayward solo projects and the increasingly linear conservatism of Audioslave, the singer tries to slip back into Soundgarden’s heavy-yet-sensual mystique. But he strains for notes he once pierced on the heavier songs, and settles too easily for substandard, low-volume mood pieces such as “Bones of Birds,” “Taree,” “Halfway There” and “Black Saturday.” They sound more like singer-songwriter leftovers from his solo albums than the stuff of which big rock-band comebacks are made.
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