This may not come as much of a surprise to fans of Soundgarden, long-dormant titans of Northwest rock who awoke two years ago to once again stomp the earth, but it is apparently a massive revelation to the music critics of the world: Chris Cornell and company still sound like Chris Cornell and company.
Yes, that seemingly obvious point has served as a through-line for most of the reviews of the band’s King Animal album, their first studio effort in 16 years and a welcome addition to their thunderous back catalog. And in case you’re wondering, Soundgarden have read the majority of those reviews, and don’t really seem to think the critics have stumbled on to something startling, either.
“It depends on what lens you want to view that statement through. Because if you’re a band that wrote and recorded a song like ’Jesus Christ Pose’ and then a song like ’Head Down,’ there’s a lot of territory between those two things, and both of them sound like Soundgarden,” Cornell told MTV News. “So whatever it is we do, if it’s an Ohio Players cover, it’s going to sound like us, so, if you’re viewing it that way, it’s great. It you’re viewing it from what someone’s trying to imply is that we still sound like we always did and we always sounded a specific way and that hasn’t changed because we’re not evolving, that’s just idiocy.”
And while most folks seem to think nothing has changed, there is on major difference between the Soundgarden of 2012 and the band that ruled the Billboard charts in the mid-nineties with smashes like “Spoonman” and “Black Hole Sun:” This time around, they’re hell-bent on doing things their way, industry-wide expectations be damned.
“We controlled all the steps, to make sure we had more say in everything. We had a real opportunity to approach this from a better position of power than we had in the ’90s,” drummer Matt Cameron said. “There was no master plan, but we approached it with our own ideas and intentions, so it can still be successful in a way that we’re comfortable with.”
“It got to the point [in the 90s] where we’d be booked onto, like, year-long tours for an album we hadn’t even written yet,” Cornell added. “And this time, we had a whole European tour on the cards — it was like a multi-million dollar offer, a bunch of festivals — and that was the first thing that was on our plate, and we all unanimously said ’No.’ And I think that was a big moment, where we all breathed a sigh of relief and knew ’Oh, this isn’t going to be like it used to be.’ It’s not ’Let’s get Team Soundgarden Corp back together again!'”
And on new songs like “Non State Actor” and “Blood on the Valley Floor,” Soundgarden serve notice that they’re never going back to those corporate days, proving instead that they’d rather churn and burn with the best of them … which makes King Animal a welcome departure from the majority of rock reunions, which tend to suck mightily. And don’t think that fact wasn’t in the band’s mind when they set out to make it.
“This has always been true for us: our audience that we’re writing for is each other, which is partly why we’ve often shut producers out of the picture, why we’ve never used an A&R person, ever,” Cornell said. “And that being the case, we’re not getting back together 15 years later and trying to figure out how we write an album and how we produce an album for an audience that exists in 2012; I think about the same three guys, and imagining what they like and what they want to do, so it’s based on that.”
“I think a lot of bands that reunite and end up disappointing their fans because they try to update themselves, and try to fit in to what they’re listening to or what they think people are listening to,” guitarist Kim Thayil added. So, almost naturally, fans expect albums like this to not be any good. So, luckily for us, the bar has been set very low, and we just jumped over it.”