Ambivalence is a strange feeling. All too often at college parties, I have incredibly paradoxical impulses. For example, throwing a full can of Natural Light off a balcony vs. throwing myself off that same balcony. Usually, I choose neither option and end up sitting alone on a bench for hours on end, a glowing white ball of sexual frustration and cigarette smoke.
The new Soundgarden record is a lot like that.
I'll be straight with you: Superunknown and Down on the Upside were my entire high school experience, and "Spoonman" fits the "badlands" level of Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage so ineffably well that just thinking about that multisensory assault for too long could send me into a paralytic fervor. So yeah, I was really big into Soundgarden and dragons and shit, probably due to some subconscious/pubescent obsession with primal urges. Or something.
But anyway, King Animal is a record that would have been really cool had it come out 15 years ago. There's not much, technically or otherwise, that's so different from something like Down on the Upside: Similar production value, same weird Eastern-y guitar riffs (courtesy of Kim Thayil), and Chris Cornell's scream has held up insanely well over his decades-long career (it's no studio gimmick: watch him on Letterman). So it's not their musical abilities that make me feel so uncomfortable. And I wouldn't be so shallow as to blame it on the fact that they're getting kind of old and dad-like in their appearances. Everyone gets old and wrinkly; fighting it is useless (just ask The National with their "dad-rock" epithets). In fact, Cornell and Thayil, et al look pretty good for pushing 50.
I think what it really comes down to is that it's the end of 2012, and listening to new Soundgarden music that sounds exactly like old Soundgarden music is just a thing that shouldn't happen. Think of the Talking Heads for a second. They were a band who had one of the most distinct sounds in music history, and are, in my opinion, basically the greatest band that ever existed. Now think of hearing a new Talking Heads single that could have just been a refurbished demo off Speaking in Tongues. Even if it captured those exact goofy-yet-emotive qualities of the best of the Heads's cannon, it still wouldn't be satisfying, because it's contextually and temporally inappropriate. It sounds like a really fucked up thing to say about music, that its quality is partially dependent on its era. Good music is good music, right? Well, sort of. I think we all know/roll our eyes at the dudes who still think Zeppelin own the musical universe.
So, what I'm getting at is that I don't really have a verdict on King Animal. It doesn't suck, that's for sure. But I hesitate to call it "great," or even "good," because my parameters for defining a record's quality include, at least in part, a sense of progress, of forward movement, of innovation in thought or intention. Soundgarden's new effort just doesn't have this. It's much more throwback than comeback, and that just doesn't sit well with me at all.
So my stupid analogy from before persists. I want to love King Animal and jam out to it this weekend over some beers (that hopefully won't get tossed at any unsuspecting inebriates), but, like, I tried dancing to it before, alone in my dorm, and I just felt like a stubbly loser and, like, I need a haircut now. I guess in reality I don't know how to feel about a lot of things, and I guess having the privilege of adding Soundgarden to the immense grocery list of dysphoria and ambivalence that comprises most human existences is pretty sweet, in a bitter way. But whatever. Go listen to it for yourself and let me know if you think it blows or if it rules. At this point I can no longer dissociate Soundgarden from Spyro the Dragon and the grey matter of my brain will most likely begin to deteriorate rapidly if I don't continue watching POV videos of users playing through the entirety of Ripto's Rage on YouTube because I donated my Playstation to Goodwill in like 8th grade and have no way to satiate the unholy terrors seizing up my limbic system. Pray for me.
Watch the music vid for the single, "Been Away Too Long."