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Songwriting is the issue on Soundgarden's new album

By Stephen Skudlarek
On November 28, 2012


I was a pretty big fan of Soundgarden when I was in high school. I became interested in their music long after they had broken up, and I always longed for the band to reunited and create new album. This album was not what I had been looking for. 

Soundgarden's first full-length album in 16 years, "King Animal," falls short of being a good album. It's a decent first attempt at getting back onto the music scene, but there's just not a lot special about this album.  

There are only a couple of tracks that I can really say I enjoyed at least somewhat on "King Animal." "Halfway There" is an interesting song about reaching your goals. This is more upbeat than most of the album, with a catchy chorus and a nice mix of acoustic and hard rock.  

"Been Away Too Long" is one of the best tracks on the album, for what it's worth. It showcases good vocals by frontman Chris Cornell, and some truly excellent guitar work by lead guitarist Kim Thayil. I haven't heard anything the band has done while touring during the past couple of years or so, but Thayil has clearly been keeping up with his guitar abilities over the years since the band's last album so long ago.  

Thayil is honestly at the top of his game for this album. His riffs are simply amazing, and a great aspect of the band's sound. I've always enjoyed his mix of hard rock and Indian and Middle Eastern riffs. This album is no exception to this technique, as it's present for most of the songs. The rest of the band performs very well most of the time, but Cornell's voice tends to wear out at times. At these points, he is not particularly pleasant to hear.

I know that Soundgarden has a traditionally edgy and hard sound, and while Cornell can usually sing to match this, sometimes he isn't able to perform well on some of the earlier tracks. Honestly, the band should've played more to his strengths while writing the songs. His voice is at its best when it isn't utilized in a strident capacity all the time.  Some of the songs on this album have him yelling quite a bit, which just doesn't work sometimes. Again, it's kind of on a case-by-case basis here-it's fine sometimes, but when it's not effective, he seems to clash with the rest of the band, or his voice sounds really strained. It may seem like I'm nitpicking with this comment, but these issues were practically nonexistent when Cornell was with Audioslave. Both bands were fantastic, but Cornell seemed to work perfectly with the backing in that case. Maybe he's just not used to working with Thayil and the rest of Soundgarden

It's not a terrible album. A good amount of the songs are actually pretty decent, and the band plays well on all of them. It's mainly the songwriting that I have an issue with. Some of the songs are interesting, and a couple of them are even pretty good. There's just nothing here that's really memorable. None of the songs attracted my attention enough to remember them after I moved on to the next track.

I'll give credit to the band for their skills, but the songwriting is really lacking. It's worth noting that while each band member has written songs for this album, Cornell's are predictably the best. This doesn't make them necessarily good, but they're still better than everything else on the album. If the band is able to write more memorable material for their next release, it could be great.  If you're a fan of Soundgarden or Grunge in general, "King Animal" might be worth checking out, but I wouldn't recommend it to most people.

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