The time is finally here (abeit a bit late for me, since I did not receive my press copy on time). The album I’ve been waiting for what seems like forever, one of my most anticipated albums of all time is finally here.
First off I’ll run through the two songs we’ve all heard. The album kicks off with ‘Been Away Too Long.’ The song has a solid chorus and a bridge that sounds like classic Soundgarden, the flaw in the song is that the verses tend to sound a bit forced. The second track is ‘Non-State Actor,’ the song has a nice chorus but the song tends to get repetitive.
The album really picks up steam with ‘By Crooked Steps.’ That is where the album really starts for me. The intro/buildup to the hook laden riff is fantastic. This sounds like vintage Soundgarden. Cornell sounds on top form here, his screams here are the best I’ve heard since the first Audioslave album a decade ago and he came up with a memorable melody. This should be a great live song, I could imagine it opening up shows.
‘A Thousand Days Before’ is reminiscent of Mind Riot and Searching With My Good Eye Closed. Thayil’s playing has a Middle Eastern vibe to it (Cameron’s drumming compliments this well), this is some of his best playing on the album. Great melody and lyrics from Cornell, this is the highlight of the album so far. Epic.
‘Blood on the Valley Floor’ has the same Grungy plodding vibe that was a mainstay on Superunknown. Great dark lyrics from Cornell here, another song with a classic Soundgarden vibe.
‘Bones of Birds’ definitely sounds like it’ll be the next radio single, and it will be a hit. It’s one of the best songs on the albums and it holds up with Soundgarden’s old classics. Very melodic melody by Cornell with a simple catchy riff, it reminds me a bit of Blow Up The Outside World/Fell On Black Days but at the same time it has its own vibe. It’s one of those songs where the verses and chorus are equally catchy, it does not let up. Cornell uses birds as part of the imagery, like he did in Like Suicide. The chorus goes ‘Hey sometimes she won’t cry/when the smallest one has drowned/too weak to survive.’
Ben Shepherd and Chris Cornell bring a bluesy vibe to ‘Taree,’ I like the verses a lot, the chorus is fine. This song isn’t quite as immediate as the previous four, but it gets better with each listen.
The punky ‘Attrition,’ a song where Ben Shepherd penned the lyrics and music, is next. The song has gotten negative reviews from other critics, but it’s a fun little song, I don’t get why they hate it. I like it.
The next song is a change of pace. ‘Black Saturday’ starts out with an acoustic guitar, and then goes electric. It has kind of a jazzy vibe. The lyric ‘Burn out any memory of me ever breathing/Til I’m born again’ is one of my favorites on the album. The song then kicks into the dark riff we heard in the King Animal trailer before going back into the chorus. I think it would have worked better to just end the song on the dark moody riff, but this is a solid song.
‘Halfway There’ sounds like a Chris Cornell solo song, it reminds me of Carry On. This song is better crafted though than the songs on that album and it obviously has a far better backing band. I like it though, nice melody. I’ll bet many Soundgarden purists won’t like it, but I am always drawn to a strong melody more than anything.
After two songs with acoustic guitars, we get a rockier number in ‘Worse Dreams.’ Ben Shepherd’s bass playing is one of the highlights of the song. The chorus has a poppier vibe than I was expecting after the preview we heard in August, the guitar tone during the chorus reminds me a bit of Pearl Jam’s Backspacer. The verse riff has a spy movie type sound. This is a solid song, another one that should be a fun live one.
While in the past Soundgarden tried to avoid comparisons to Led Zeppelin, they fully embrace the mighty Zep on ‘Eyelid’s Mouth.’ Cornell channels Robert Plant and Kim Thayil channels his inner Jimmy Page. The song drags near the end, but overall a solid effort. Seems like a grower.
‘Rowing’ is driven by some of the best bass playing of Ben Shepherd’s career. Cornell sounds very soulful here, a bit like When I’m Down during the verses. The simple chorus is very catchy, it stuck with me the moment I heard it in the King Animal trailer. With two and a half minutes left the pace picks up a bit with the full band coming in leading to vintage Kim Thayil guitar solo.
Favorite songs: A Thousand Days Before, Bones of Birds, By Crooked Steps, Rowing, and Blood on the Valley Floor
Overall, this is a really solid album. It definitely blew away my expectations after hearing Been Away Too Long/Non-State Actor, which I was not big on. It is a return to form for Chris Cornell, after a couple of misses in my opinion (Carry On and Scream) and his strongest effort since Audioslave’s self-titled debut album 10 years ago. Do I think this is as great as Badmotorfinger, Superunknown, and Down on the Upside? Not on my first 5-6 listens, but what matters is this is a good album with some amazing songs (A Thousand Days Before/By Crooked Steps/Bones of Birds/Blood on the Valley Floor) from a veteran band returning from a long absence.