King Animal

Last updated on 21 July 2017

King Animal is the sixth studio album by American rock band Soundgarden. It was released on November 13, 2012, by Seven Four Entertainment and Republic Records[7][8] in the United States, and by Vertigo Records[9] in the rest of the world. Produced by both the band and Adam Kasper, the album is the band's first in sixteen years, and the first not to be released on A&M Records since 1988's Ultramega OK. However, Republic, Vertigo and A&M are all owned by Universal Music Group. It is also the band's final studio album to be released before the death of frontman Chris Cornell in 2017.

Soundgarden KA Album cover.jpg
A pile of bones in a snow-covered field

Background and recording

In January 2010, Chris Cornell announced Soundgarden had reunited, 13 years following their break-up.[10] At first the band was just interested in relearning the old songs and playing them live, but Cornell declared that “It would be exciting to record one song, to hear how Soundgarden-ish that might be this much time later."[11] The first studio work for the band was finishing the song "Black Rain" for the compilation Telephantasm, which guitarist Kim Thayil said "showed our evolvement creatively", and late in 2010, drummer Matt Cameron booked studio time to show some song ideas and have the band compose some more through jam sessions.[12] In February 2011 it was announced on Soundgarden's homepage that they had started writing new songs.[13] One month later, the recording sessions begun at Seattle's Studio X, under producer Adam Kasper. Sessions would be interrupted by the end of the month so Cornell could move onto his solo "Songbook" tour, which would be interspersed with Soundgarden concerts.[14] Given the band's contract with A&M Records was fulfilled by releasing compilation Telephantasm and live album Live on I-5, Soundgarden produced the album independently.[15]

Although Cameron claimed the album would be released in 2011,[16] the recording was prolonged as Thayil said that "the more we enjoy it, the more our fans should end up enjoying it."[17] On October, Cornell stated the band would return to the studio in December, as the album was "mostly done, we just need to finish a couple of songs and mix it, so that will be happening probably over the holidays."[18]

In May 2012, the band reported that they were eyeing a release that October.[19] On September 17, 2012, it was announced that the album would be titled King Animal and would be released on November 13, 2012.[20] Explaining the title King Animal, Cornell declared that it relates to how the band "were a big fish in a small pond, and we sort of graduated. There was a sense of us feeling like it was us four against the world. We clearly had that from the very beginning. In some weird way after all this time, we persevered. The album kind of stands out as a symbol and an indication of that."[21]

Composition and style

Thayil reported that some songs sound "similar in a sense to Down on the Upside" and that the album would be "picking up where we left off. There are some heavy moments, and there are some fast songs."[22] The band members stated the new album would consist of material that was "90 percent new" and the rest consisting of updated versions of older ideas. They also noted that they had 12 to 14 songs that were "kind of ready to go".[23] One of said early ideas was "Taree", which bassist Ben Shepherd wrote in the late 1990s, and had recorded a demo for his solo album In Deep Owl before the band's reunion, where he decided the song deserved a full-band treatment.[24] The sound of King Animal was influenced by the musicians' respective maturation during the hiatus and inspiration from other long-running acts.[15]

Release and promotion

For the release of King Animal, Soundgarden signed a deal with Loma Vista Recordings, as CEO Tom Whalley preferred self-contained acts that write their own songs, play their own instruments and sing their own songs. Distribution was handled by Loma Vista's partner Republic Records.[25] Cornell compared the experience of only seeking a label once the album was done to "almost like it was in the beginning of the band.”[15]

The album's cover and subsequent art direction is based on a sculpture by Josh Graham, who Kim Thayil invited after seeing the artwork he did for his band A Storm of Light. Featuring animal skulls above a field of flowers in a snowy forest, the sculpture "Night of the Last Equinox" features a recurring motif of Graham's art, the juxtaposition of life and death and how "everything between there is such a massive part of the human condition.”[26] Chris Cornell stated that the art deals with Graham's interpretation of the songs, which somehow fit the band's frequent moody lyrics with an outdoor theme.[21] Kim Thayil revealed that the band asked for art priorizing white and other lighter colors, to change from how "most of our album covers have had a darker pallet".[27] Graham also did the animated backdrops for Soundgarden's tour, and directed the music video for the album's first single, "Been Away Too Long".[26] Band photography was done by the band manager Don VanCleave.[28][29]

To promote the album, Whalley decided to focus on how Soundgarden exploited "an emotional connection from a musician and songwriter to an audience", doing a track-by-track narrative for King Animal at Seattle's Moore Theatre, and performing three intimate concerts at New York's Irving Plaza, Toronto's Phoenix Concert Theater and Los Angeles' Fonda Theatre.[25] "Been Away Too Long" was the first single to be released from King Animal on September 27, 2012.[30] "Been Away Too Long" and "By Crooked Steps" were used in promotional spots on ESPN for Monday Night Football, and the former was heard in an episode of Sons of Anarchy.[25] On October 31, 2012,"Non-State Actor" was released through the official Soundgarden YouTube channel. The video for the song features an American flag waving back and forth with the King Animal logo replacing the stars.[31] The week before its release, the album was streamed in its entirety for free on iTunes.[32] On January 29, 2013, the band released a music video for "By Crooked Steps", which was directed by Dave Grohl.[33] On September 4, 2013, the band released a music video for "Halfway There".[34]

Versions

Along with CD, LP and digital download releases, King Animal was also issued on a deluxe box set featuring the CD with three demos as bonus tracks, the double vinyl, a DVD of the band's 2012 performance at Hyde Park, and five lithographs.[35] Best Buy carried a special edition CD featuring five demos.[36] For Record Store Day 2013, Soundgarden issued King Animal Demos as a limited edition pink vinyl featuring the early takes on six songs from the album.[37] Later in 2013, King Animal Plus was released, featuring 5 live tracks recorded for Live from the Artists Den at The Wiltern, Los Angeles and an acoustic cut by Cornell and Shepherd recorded for CIMX-FM in Detroit.[38]

Critical reception

King Animal received positive reviews. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from critics, the album received an average score of 70, which indicates "generally favorable reviews", based on 32 reviews.[39] Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic gave it a positive review by saying, "King Animal is a big, bright album, executed with precision and professionalism. The band members sound older, not quite as loud, and possess a keener sense of good taste, and it sounds as if they've aged together, which is a testament to their innate chemistry. Simply put, Soundgarden sound like they belong together; Cornell sounds richer, fuller when anchored by drummer Matt Cameron, bassist Ben Shepherd, and the deceptively sinewy and brainy guitarist Kim Thayil, whose presence has sorely been missed over the past decade."[40] Stuart Berman of Pitchfork Media gave the album a 5.9 out of 10, saying "The best hope for King Animal was that Soundgarden would be inspired enough by their spiritual successors to want to outdo them, and set a new benchmark for ambitious aggression. Instead, the group's first album since 1996 just sounds like the one they would've churned out in 1998."[5] Hilary Saunders of Paste gave the album 7.0 out of 10, saying "Comeback albums are notoriously difficult to conceptualize and actualize and King Animal took more than a year to create after the band spent a decade and a half on hiatus. While this record lacks the canonizing tracks like "Jesus Christ Pose", "Black Hole Sun", "Spoonman" and "Burden in My Hand", Soundgarden deserves to be commended for recapturing the feeling of grunge and reintroducing it today."[47] Luke Turner of BBC Music gave the album a positive review, saying "King Animal undeniably draws its strength from the band’s accessible Superunknown era, but also takes Soundgarden somewhere fresh."[42]

Chris DeVille of The A.V. Club gave the album a B-, saying "More often, though, King Animal affirms what a potent formula this band established. It’s neither a trainwreck nor a masterpiece, but it stirs the senses in all the right ways."[48] Matt Melis of Consequence of Sound gave the album a C-, saying "Production issues aside, this record proves that Soundgarden still have their muscle but also hints that they are in the process of figuring out how to flex it again. For every realized track like “Worse Dreams”, with its circular vocal phrasings and slippery riffing, there’s a jam like “Eyelid’s Mouth” that completely loses its identity — in this case, via an almost painful chorus that asks, “Who let the river run dry?” Still, there’s more than enough merit found in King Animal to ensure that any future tweets by Chris Cornell about new Soundgarden music will confidently be filed under #reallygoodnews."[49] Michael Christopher of The Phoenix gave the album three out of four stars, saying "On the whole, King Animal is a welcome return, and though it doesn't reinvent the wheel, it reminds us why these guys were considered the architects of the Seattle scene."[44] Richard Trapunski of Now gave the album four out of five stars, saying "King Animal doesn’t sound like a nostalgia-fed cash grab, nor is it poisoned by the desperate commercialism of Cornell’s post-Soundgarden projects. Instead, it picks up where 1996’s Down On The Upside left off, layering Cornell’s distinct howl over psychedelic textures, off-kilter time signatures and heavy, chugging riffs courtesy of way-underrated guitarist Kim Thayil."[50]

Scott McLennan of The Boston Globe gave the album a mixed review, saying "There's nothing bad about these 13 tracks, but nothing truly remarkable either. It's been 16 years since singer Chris Cornell, guitarist Kim Thayil, bassist Ben Shepherd, and drummer Matt Cameron applied their combined talents to new songs, and while the old chemistry sounds intact (though can we get more from the drummer, please?) the material is not particularly combustible."[51] Tim Karan of the Alternative Press gave the album three and a half stars out of five, saying "It’s difficult to imagine a new Soundgarden album that would sound startlingly different from King Animal. It’s right in line with the band’s natural progression; so much so that it’s almost difficult to believe it didn’t come out a decade ago. Is it as evocative and emotive as their earlier albums? Not quite. But it’s new Soundgarden songs that sound like old Soundgarden songs—and if you’re of a certain generation or disposition, that’s been a long time coming."[41] Jonathan Keefe of Slant Magazine gave the album three out of five stars, saying "King Animal doesn't contain any standout tracks that justify Soundgarden's comeback or which rank as essential additions to the band's very strong catalogue. The album is less a triumphant return than an example of what happens to most middle-aged rock bands: They've returned as a slightly more conservative version of what made them famous in the first place."[52]

Commercial performance

King Animal sold 83,000 copies in the United States in its first week of release to land at position No. 5 on the Billboard 200 chart, making it the third highest position of Soundgarden's career behind their previous two studio albums, Superunknown (1994) and Down on the Upside (1996), which landed at position Nos. 1 and 2, respectively.[53] It has sold 235,000 copies in the United States as of November 2016.[54]

The album reached the top ten on the Australian and German Albums Chart, the top fifteen on the albums charts of Ireland and Norway, and the top thirty on the albums charts of the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom.[55]

Track listing

All lyrics written by Chris Cornell, except where noted.

No. Title Lyrics Music Length
1. "Been Away Too Long"   Cornell, Ben Shepherd 3:36
2. "Non-State Actor" Kim Thayil, Cornell Shepherd 3:57
3. "By Crooked Steps"   Matt Cameron, Shepherd, Thayil 4:00
4. "A Thousand Days Before"   Thayil 4:23
5. "Blood on the Valley Floor"   Thayil 3:48
6. "Bones of Birds"   Cornell 4:22
7. "Taree"   Shepherd 3:38
8. "Attrition" Shepherd Shepherd 2:52
9. "Black Saturday"   Cornell 3:29
10. "Halfway There"   Cornell 3:16
11. "Worse Dreams"   Cornell 4:53
12. "Eyelid's Mouth"   Cameron 4:39
13. "Rowing"   Shepherd, Cornell 5:08
Total length: 52:01
Deluxe Edition CD, Digital Download and Box Set bonus tracks
No. Title Length
14. "Worse Dreams" (Demo) 3:20
15. "Black Saturday" (Demo) 3:16
16. "By Crooked Steps" (Demo) 4:23
Total length: 1:03:00
Japan bonus tracks
No. Title Length
14. "Worse Dreams" (Demo) 3:20
15. "Black Saturday" (Demo) 3:16
16. "By Crooked Steps" (Demo) 4:23
17. "Bones of Birds" (Demo) 3:27
Total length: 1:06:27
iTunes Deluxe Edition bonus tracks
No. Title Length
14. "Worse Dreams" (Demo) 3:20
15. "Black Saturday" (Demo) 3:16
16. "By Crooked Steps" (Demo) 4:23
17. "Halfway There" (Demo) 3:34
Total length: 1:06:34
Best Buy, Amazon.de, and Australian Deluxe Edition bonus tracks
No. Title Length
14. "Worse Dreams" (Demo) 3:20
15. "Black Saturday" (Demo) 3:16
16. "By Crooked Steps" (Demo) 4:23
17. "Bones of Birds" (Demo) 3:27
18. "A Thousand Days Before" (Demo) 4:24
Total length: 1:10:51
King Animal Plus bonus tracks
No. Title Length
14. "Taree" (Live from the Artists Den) 3:48
15. "Blind Dogs" (Live from the Artists Den) 4:24
16. "Rowing" (Live from the Artists Den) 4:25
17. "Non-State Actor" (Live from the Artists Den) 4:09
18. "A Thousand Days Before" (Live from the Artists Den) 4:46
19. "Halfway There" (Acoustic from 89X CIMX Detroit/Windsor) 3:22
Total length: 1:17:06

Personnel

Soundgarden

Additional musicians

  • Adam Kasper – piano (6), tambura (4)
  • Jeff McGrath – trumpet (4 and 9)
  • Greg Powers – tenor and bass trombone (4 and 9)
  • Brad Stevens – tenor and baritone saxophone (9)
  • Bubba Dupree – stun guitar (8)
  • Bullet – additional vocals (9)
  • Mike McCready – additional guitar (12)

Technical personnel

  • Adam Kasper – producer
  • Soundgarden – producer
  • Joe Barresi – mixing, additional production
  • Nate Yaccino – engineer
  • Sam Hofstedt – engineer
  • Josh Evans – engineer, studio assistant
  • Jay Follette – studio assistant
  • Neil Hundt – studio assistant
  • Gregg Keplinger – studio assistant
  • Jun Murakawa – mixing assistant
  • Chris Cornell – additional recording
  • Ted Jensen – mastering
  • Josh Graham – album cover sculpture (The Last Equinox), album cover photography and design
  • Don Vancleave – band photography

Charts

Chart (2012) Peak
position
Australian Albums (ARIA)[56] 6
Austrian Albums (Ö3 Austria)[57] 19
Belgian Albums (Ultratop Flanders)[58] 43
Belgian Albums (Ultratop Wallonia)[59] 46
Danish Albums (Hitlisten)[60] 5
Finnish Albums (Suomen virallinen lista)[61] 10
French Albums (SNEP)[62] 67
German Albums (Offizielle Top 100)[63] 10
Italian Albums (FIMI)[64] 18
Dutch Albums (MegaCharts)[65] 24
New Zealand Albums (RMNZ)[66] 4
Norwegian Albums (VG-lista)[67] 13
Poland (ZPAV)[68] 36
Spanish Albums (PROMUSICAE)[69] 22
Swedish Albums (Sverigetopplistan)[70] 25
Swiss Albums (Schweizer Hitparade)[71] 9
UK Albums (OCC)[72] 21
US Billboard 200[73] 5

See also

References

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