King Animal
[Seven Four Entertainment/Universal]

It's been 16 years since their last studio album of new material--during which vocalist Chris Cornell led a mixed bag solo career along with membership in Audioslave--and at first it seemed like a big fail for Soundgarden was just around the corner: that Iron Man song, "Live to Rise", didn't do much to get fans truly excited for the studio comeback, combining a sub par tune in the latter-day solo Cornell vain with some admittedly classic Kim Thayil riffage. Then they decided to kick off the unfortunately titled King Animal with "Been Away for Too Long", instead of choosing a more apt song than a "My Wave" retread--which still rocks, btw--to address that particular point. However, upon further inspecttion, the Seattle quartet have put together an album which won't tarnish their legacy but won't really add to it, either. And if that sounds like damning with faint praise, my apologies; King Animal is actually better than that.

But here's the thing: while this album shares a similarly crisp production with Down on the Upside [A&M-1996] and at different times can remind one of Badmotorfinger [A&M-1991] and Superunknown [A&M-1994], it lacks the majesty of the latter and the visceral power of any of them, and often comes across as a heavier Cornell solo album ("Bones of Birds", "Worse Dreams"). Fortunately, it also lacks any embarrassing moments. And incongruous chocolate-bar-stuck-in-the-peanut-butter tunes as had occasionally popped up on Audioslave albums are not much of a concern here, thankfully. (Although there are a couple of tunes reminiscent of Queens of the Stone Age--"Attrition"--and Blind Melon--"Black Saturday"--respectively, neither one of which amounts to more than filler. And at least one tune--"Halfway There"--may have been an actual outtake from a Cornell solo album. (Probably not Euphoria Morning [A&M-1999], tho.) Oh, and Cornell's upper register is shot. These days he needs a fire engine ladder to reach the high notes he once effortlessly captivated millions of fans with. But that's been going on for a decade now, so...

Ultimately, the best thing one could say about King Animal is that it sounds like it could've been seamlessly released 2-3 years after Down on the Upside and broken up the band anyway. It's a grower and it doesn't suck.

Highlights: "Non-State Actor", "Blood on the Valley Floor", "Bones of Birds", "Taree", "Worse Dreams".