* “The priest wore black on the seventh day / And sat stone-faced while the building burned”
– Bob Dylan
There it was. I couldn’t believe it. I’d been looking on Amazon to see if there’s a Soundgarden biography out there (there didn’t seem to be, though I did spot an Alice in Chains book a couple weeks ago) and I came upon this band interview where they talk about Johnny Cash. For some time I’ve been attempting to somehow see my opinion of Johnny Cash elevated and I have to say this interview did the trick: Cornell and the gang regarded it as an “honor” across the board that the country legend covered “Rusty Cage” for ’96’s American II: Unchained. The band then busted into a live performance of “Rusty Cage” which, though, it looked like, was held in some quaint auditorium filled with individuals who are fans of rock to an extent that’s casual at best (being there for the televised aspect of the thing and the Johnny Cash mythmaking, probably) and so thereby unable to fully achieve the volume that a grunge diehard like me might seek, still packed a punch and put me in a Soundgarden mood. As a result, I decided to give this King Animal puppy a whirl, take a look under its hood, if you will. Alluded to in the title are the surprising results of this particular expedition of mine, but first, I’ve got some unfortunate facts to objectively prove. And this is that Stuart Berman of Pitchfork is a total snob.
Now, obviously there are worse things to be called in life than snob, like “pu**y,” “creep” or “Staind fan,” but for what it’s worth, Pitchfork literally bashed the sh** out of Soundgarden in ’96, to an excessive, garish extent, saying things like they took pride in not attending their concerts and just gnashing their teeth at them with their little bespectacled parochial school stare I can just see now, to the point where they had NO business whatsoever reviewing King Animal, the band’s first album since ’96. For them to even take on the project is preposterous and shows the banality and ennui of their website’s operation as a whole: they’re literally sitting on their hands, desperately seeking meaning by lashing out at these “easy targets,” Soundgarden who they imply in their King Animal review are bad for the very reason of being “mega-selling.” It’s like, ooh, they’re “mega-selling!” They must really suck! Everybody is a total idiot but me, especially these 10 million individuals who connected emotionally with this music! They remind me of those geeks that hate Hootie & the Blowfish just for being successful and because they think any black musical artist should have the complexion of a hockey puck, have teeth missing and a bullet lodged in his a**. It’s like they didn’t even have the balls to call Soundgarden “pompous” or “arrogant”… just the fact that they were popular should devalue them. That, my friends, is snobbery, or more specifically, a completely pathetic attempt at standing out by way of self-differentiating from the pack, at the expense of basic human decency and character.
Well, yeah, as you might have heard, Soundgarden are kind of a big deal, though, in my estimation, not as big as they should have been, in 2017 on THAT tour. No, I guess King Animal isn’t MARKEDLY different from Superunknown and Down on the Upside, in style, but that’s exactly why it’s good. Also, this brings me to another point I’d hope to furnish in discussion of this band: Wikipedia states that Down on the Upside “was (sic) notably less heavy than the group’s preceding albums and featured the band experimenting with other sounds.” The only “other sounds” (by the way, what specificity there) you get surrounding Down on the Upside are the noise of these morons who probably didn’t even listen to the album wanting to bring down the giant… furthermore, Superunknown already boasted some eccentric approaches a la the mandolin escapades of “Head down” and “Half,” two Ben Shepherd numbers, so that Wikipedia statement is wrong on three counts, given that the “Ty Cobb”-wielding Down on the Upside isn’t less heavy at all. Christ, and I’d thought King Animal were the final frontier. Along these lines, anyway, it is interesting, notable and certainly troublesome that the band, while touring in ’17, weren’t really playing any songs that could be termed “new,” at least if the Indianapolis setlist available on setlist.fm is any indication. It could be that they saw the need to showcase the King Animal material even more, although the set was also a little thin even on anything post-millennial whatever.
Now, what Pitchfork did there, in treating rock music as if it’s regular, or bland, and unscrupulously casting off this alleged “opinion” on something for which they feel no apparent affect whatsoever one way or the other, could certainly qualify as critical “incompetence” (their premises amount to those of a… excuse me… douche bag), but one other “tragedy” surrounding Soundgarden’s name in this decade, not that we needed another one, is the horrid choice of singles selection for King Animal. From what I understand it, the band themselves can often select what songs are offered as singles from each individual LP — I know from an MTV interview that Fred Durst had at least some control over this for Significant Other and King Animal wasn’t even officially on a major label, the band also being later in its career. I imagine, then, that the band themselves chose, and that they maybe wanted to OFFER the dumbest songs as singles, with the possibility in mind that this album would really blow up, somewhat like Weezer’s “comeback” green album after five years off (it was once suggested that if Sonic Youth would have gone on a hiatus then come back they would have mounted incredible sales, in such an appeal-through-elapsed-absence type of phenomenon). Also, like Billie Joe Armstrong suggested in certain interviews surrounding American Idiot, the artistic output which makes us the most nervous as its creators is often that with the most value and velocity about it. These are all possibilities. I, for one, I know, while admittedly being obsessed with Lower Dens, White Rabbits and Heartless Bastards in the fall of ’12, was also taking a grad English class and working 55 hours a week between two dishwashing jobs, so wasn’t really able to even know who I was or what I wanted out of music, let alone give a mastodon like a Soundgarden album a true shake. Just as a comparison, I remember thoroughly enjoying the Green Day single “Oh Love” from that same fall, basically hating everything else on Uno!. In this case of King Animal, the opposite is literally true: I like every song except for “Been away Too Long” and “Halfway There,” the other single “By Crooked Steps” while being somewhat intricate and interesting no way measuring up to the whip horsepower of “Non-State Actor” or the emotional armageddon of “Blood on the Valley Floor.” Soundgarden fans will like King Animal if they give it a chance. And we’ll hate a lot of other stuff.