There’s a certain grace to bands who know when to call it a day at the right time, instead of shamelessly plugging the hits and knock off sounds for the pull of filthy lucre. Weak final album aside, Soundgarden still fall into the former category, which is arguably why they’re one of the most respected bands catapulted out of the Seattle scene. A hard-to-believe sixteen years after their supposed swansong, however, they are back, doing something Chris Cornell vowed they’d never do – releasing a new album. If fashion is anything to go by grunge, that woeful label even grunge bands loathe, has boomeranged. High Street favourite Topshop is currently regurgitating styles last modelled by Andy Wood and Layne Staley so, aesthetically at least, Soundgarden are back at just the right time, to capture a new audience in their rusty cage.
Pressing play on King Animal is loaded with fear; the fear that this record will ruin all those supercharged, psychedelic memories of this band. As it transpires, it’s an irrational worry. The most striking thing about the album is how easily the band has fallen back into the old funk rock rhythms. ‘A Thousand Days Before’ and the sludge factor of ‘Blood on the Valley Floor’ could slot into Badmotorfinger’s tracklist and opener ‘Been Away Too Long’ unapologetically charges at the listener.
There’s no meek, waiting-for-an-invitation-to-rock element here, it’s a slick seduction. With Kim Thayil’s hurtling guitar solos, backed by Chris Cornell’s smoky vocals, there’s no mistaking who this album is by. By sticking to a tried and tested formula, and resisting the urge to shake things up to, Soundgarden wisely dodge a bullet by not having screams of “we’re still relevant!” oozing from each track. As for those teen memories of a life soundtracked by ‘Jesus Christ Pose’? Stronger than ever. Does this mean Chris Cornell’s woeful foray into RnB is forgiven? No chance but, as far as comebacks go, this is how to do it.