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.