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Soundgarden will never top Badmotorfinger. Every hard rock or heavy metal fan knows this. Their other albums are usually a pretty good escape, but the artistic prowess of Badmotorfinger will never be duplicated. Why do I bring up Badmotorfinger here, you might wonder? Well, this is the first album Soundgarden has done in a while that is worthy of that comparison. It really DOES sound like Badmotorfinger. It's not quite as good, but a lot of the songs here sound like they could fit right in on that album, and that is a MASSIVE compliment.
King Animal kicks off with a driving riff that perfectly embodies not only the spirit of King Animal, but everything that made Soundgarden such a great band. Been Away Too Long is a treat to listen to, and the title is perfect for Soundgarden's first studio album in 16 years. This whole album is full of the alien rhythms, memorable riffs, and crushing energy that makes a great hard rock CD. Even the songs that aren't quite top-shelf, Badmotorfinger level material are good enough to stand against the also-excellent Superunknown.
Lyrical themes are decent. Some of it sounds like the usual complaints of a middle age man, and it ALL sounds like material that a middle aged man would write. But that's the thing, Chris Cornell IS a middle aged man. And while it may shine overtly through his lyrics, he can still howl like a mad dog like he could on all the 90's albums.
Production is fantastic. Nothing is artificial, and yet the sound is crisp and clear like all the popular artists of today. So, in short, it doesn't sound like a pop album, but it is produced with the better aspects of a pop album.
Unlike many of the bands that attempted comebacks this year, (especially Van Halen) King Animal sounds like the sincere work of a group that genuinely wanted to record some meaningful new material. It sounds NECESSARY. It isn't just a cash grab to appeal to the thirty year old housewives who listened to Soundgarden in their prime. Nothing about it feels "cheap", and that's rare for veteran artists today.
King Animal, thankfully, is unmistakably NOT a "grunge" album. I like some grunge rock, but Soundgarden's niche lies in deceptively superficial sounding hard rock music with subtle traces of genius and artistry. That really does describe King Animal in the best way I can do it.
Now to go over notable songs. Been Away Too Long is a a great opener. It's not the best King Animal has to offer, but it's not bad at all. Bones of Birds is one of the softer pieces, and it works as well as anything from Down On the Upside. Rowing, the album's perfect closer, is the best thing here, and the most memorable, poignant track. Slow moving and yet brimming with energy, and a sense of tension-and-relief song structure. Halfway There is the only song that feels like it was written to be a single, and not a terribly effective one either. It's better than most of the singles that get released today, but that isn't saying much to its benefit.
King Animal follows the formula that any good album goes by religiously-Start with the second best song, end with the best song, and put good stuff in between. No filler, few if any forgettable tracks, great instrumentation, and overall just great music makes King Animal my favorite release of 2012, and I hope Soundgarden will continue to put out great material like this.