It’s likely that 2012 will go down as the Year the Band Got Back Together, if not always with spectacular results. (We hardly knew ye, Van Halen 4.0.) “King Animal” is the first album from Soundgarden since the Seattle alt-rock group broke up 15 years ago and, incredibly, only the sixth proper release in its existence.
It’s the best and rarest kind of reunion disc, one in which members of a band’s classic lineup make an album that sounds like a reasonable version of the albums they made before, without wallowing in nostalgia or bringing in contemporizing touches like electro beats or duets with Ne-Yo.
A glowering compound of the band’s per-usual lite punk, hard rock and heavy folk, “King Animal” picks at the remains of mid-and-later period Soundgarden classics: The bone-rattling opener “Been Away Too Long” and the vaguely political “Non-State Actor” (“You are the tank and rockets / I am the bomb,” sings Chris Cornell, who is half right) might have shown up on 1994 breakthrough “Superunknown”; “Bones of Birds” recalls a gentler, trippier, even more rueful “Black Hole Sun.”
Cornell’s skills, like those of his compatriots, have only sharpened in the off years. It’s probably his fault that the disc’s few clunkers sound like Audioslave outtakes, which means they’re technically skillful, utterly soulless and expensive-sounding.
If the worst songs here belong to Cornell, the best ones belong to history — they tap into everything the band did well in its prime while simultaneously making an argument for its continuing relevance. This isn’t merely the year’s least-embarrassing reunion disc — it’s the best Soundgarden album of 1999.
“Been Away Too Long,” “Non-State Actor,” “Bones of Birds”