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Monday, November 26, 2012

"Been Away Too Long"

This has been a year of resurgence for a number of bands who have been out of the spotlight for at least a decade.  Among them is Soundgarden and with the first single from their new album King Animal, titled "Been Away Too Long", Cornell and Co. hit the proverbial nail on the head in describing the experience of hearing them again after such a long hiatus.  Following a brief summary of the other bands who came out of hibernation, I'll return to the subject of what I consider to be the best album from this year's returning class, and possibly the best Rock album of the year.

At the dawn of the year, the most anticipated release for many was Van Halen's "A Different Kind of Truth" which, for hardcore fans of the early days who dismiss the "Van Hagar" era (referring to Sammy Hagar's 1985-1996 tenure), was 28 years in the making with the return of original frontman David Lee Roth for the first full album since "1984".  The new album pleased most early era fans despite the fact that roughly half of the album came from re-recorded versions of the band's earliest demos; a strategy which paid off in helping the band return to their early sound.  I found about four tracks off the new album enjoyable enough to put into my personal rotation but Van Halen was not the band whose release I was looking forward to this year.

Following a few years of turmoil which was well documented by all media outlets, Aerosmith finally announced the release of their first album of original material since 2001's "Just Push Play" (the 2004 release "Honkin' On Bobo" featured uninspired covers of Blues standards).  The new album, titled "Music From Another Dimension", was released just three weeks ago after a long introductory period of sneak peeks and behind the scenes "Making Of" videos.  The first single "Legendary Child" followed Van Halen's formula, being an outtake from "Get A Grip", and provided an appetizing peek at the album.  Unfortunately the highlights are lost in a sea of ballads that have overstayed their welcome in album and live form.  There are a few gems in the mix like "Luv XXX", "Street Jesus", "Lover Alot" and "Out Go The Lights" as well as "Legendary Child" but overall this album is far from the return to roots the band foreshadowed.  Considering the enthusiasm about the album prior to its release, and Joe Perry's comments about this album being 10 years in the making, the result is a sad realization that these guys just can't make a real Rock album anymore.

Another band who came back from a lengthy break is No Doubt, the Pop-Ska hybrid led by Gwen Stefani who went solo for two albums between their 2001 release "Rock Steady" and new album "Push And Shove".  I found myself strangely glued to the news of their return, as I'm not a huge fan but I find their music a welcome distraction from the hard and heavy stuff that usually fills my ears.  I have not spent a lot of time giving their latest a spin yet, but what I have heard so far is on par with their best.

As Snoop Dogg says, "Back to the lecture at hand"......
Soundgarden disbanded in 1997, and for many years singer Chris Cornell crushed any hopes of a reunion by saying there was no communication within the band regarding anything besides compilation projects.  Matt Cameron went on tour with Pearl Jam in 1998 and eventually joined the band permanently.  Meanwhile, Cornell formed Audioslave in 2001 with the musicians from Rage Against The Machine, spawning a trio of impressive albums before amicably disbanding in 2007.  Cornell wasted no time after Audioslave and released 3 solo albums, one of them a live acoustic performance, before going to Twitter in 2010 to break the silence with the message "The 12-year break is over and school is back in session. Sign up now. Knights of the Soundtable ride again!".  Following the announcement, the band played a few shows, leading up to appearances at some very large festivals, and released a live album and a hits compilation. 

The first new music came in the form of a track recorded for the movie "Marvel Avengers", titled "Live To Rise".  Following the release of the song, which appeared only on the film soundtrack, short previews of tracks from the upcoming album started to surface.  The first single "Been Away Too Long" and another track "Worse Dreams", of which only a clip was available before release, gave me confidence that Soundgarden would not let me down as Aerosmith's latest did.  Not only has the new album far surpassed any expectations I had, it instantly became the album I never knew I've been waiting for.  A handful of tracks start out with a teaser intro, giving a hint of the main rhythm of the song in a quiet, subdued manner before the song erupts into it's full form, a formula that pays off well.  The initial response from a number of sites has been overwhelmingly positive, even on sites like Blabbermouth where trolls are lurking, waiting to inject their poisonous negativity.

King Animal is one of the few Rock albums (of those I've heard) released this year that fires on all cylinders, certainly among the list of bands I've mentioned who have come out of a long slumber.  Not only is this album immediately worthy of a Best Rock Album Grammy nod, but I dare to declare that any fan of Rock music who does not enjoy this album should pack up your stereo and leave it on the curb for someone who appreciates great music.  There are really too many "highlights" to mention, as that method of praise is more appropriate for albums that only provide a few, but the standout tracks include "Been Away Too Long", "By Crooked Steps", "Non-State Actor", "Worse Dreams", and "Eyelid's Mouth".

In case you're still reading this rather than rushing to your local record store (support the independent stores!) to pick up "King Animal", I'll shut up now...GO!