With most rock reunion tours, the insatiable nostalgia is often overshadowed by the “Whoa, they’re old!” factor, but Soundgarden already seemed like the elder statesmen of grunge by the time they packed it in after a gig in 1997, so the prospect of seeing them play shows in the new millennium wasn’t terribly off-putting when they got back together in 2010.
But because they left behind one of alternative rock’s most impressive catalogues, evolving at every step, from their Sub Pop debut, Screaming Life (1987), to the noisy Badmotorfinger (1991) to the stunningly successful Superunknown (1994), any new material has to be exceptionally good to meet the standards they set nearly two decades ago.
After a 16-year break from writing and recording together, King Animal sounds like a band struggling to shoulder the weight of their legacy, but it’s not a complete Sisyphean disaster. The slithering riffs of “Non-State Actor” and “Blood on the Valley Floor” are as good as grunge, and “Taree” continues in the direction of the most inspired moments on 1996’s Down on the Upside. The weaker material is just more of what never really worked for the band—like the overwrought rhythm changes of “By Crooked Steps” and journal-entry lyrical ideas.
It was easy to forgive Soundgarden for the onslaught of diminishing-returns dreck that grunge inspired (see: Godsmack, Nickelback), but the overwhelming Kroeger-ness of King Animal’s lead single, “Been Away Too Long,” is entirely inexcusable. Maybe nostalgia ain’t so bad after all.
Playlist picks “Non-State Actor,” “Taree,” “Black Saturday”
Soundgarden play the Phoenix (410 Sherbourne St.) on Nov. 16. Sold out, obvs.