Saturday, April 21, 2012

Soundgarden: Live to Rise (Review)

Original grunge pioneers Soundgarden are back with their first new music since 1997. Unfortunately, it’s only one song, and it’s for a mega Hollywood blockbuster’s soundtrack, but there’s no denying that “Live to Rise” is something that this Gen X’er has been dying to hear. So, without further ado…has the wait been worth it?

Putting aside the simmering contempt that I have for Chris Cornell for going hip-hop on us, disbanding Soundgarden back in the late ‘90s, and bringing Audioslave to an end a few years ago, I have to admit that he not only does he sound at home with his old band mates, he sounds pretty good, albeit a bit weathered. What else would one expect though from one of grunge, and rock in general’s, most powerfully wailer. I hate to think about that fact that some “studio magic” probably helped his aging voice somewhat, but at least there’s nary a hint of auto-tune anywhere in “Live to Rise.” The only real detractor from Cornell’s part in “Live to Rise” is that once again, for about the millionth time, Cornell revisits his favorite metaphor of all time: the sun. “Like the sun we will live to rise/Like the sun we will live and die/and then ignite again.” We’ve heard this type of lyric from Cornell before, and we’ll probably hear it again. I can live with it because everything else about the band is still top notch. In fact, this one track sounds better than almost everything released from their last album Down On The Upside

Kim Thayil might be a little grey in the beard now, but he still has the guitar chops to reassert his claim to the god of grunge guitar. His detuned drone is instantly recognizable and, once again, conjures enough uniqueness to stand apart from the legions of his imitators, much like Jerry Cantrell’s reinvigorated AIC guitar sound does. Cantrell and Thayil ARE grunge, and I challenge anyone to successfully argue otherwise. When Thayil launches into his first Soundgarden solo near the end of “Live to Rise” I quite simply break out into goose bumps, just like I do every time I hear his solo during “Drown Me.” I had forgotten how much I missed my favorite grunge guitarist (next to Cantrell) and it really is heaven hearing him playing and recording again.

The rest of the band, which comprises Ben Shepherd and Matt Cameron, i.e. the rhythm section, is just as powerful as they were during Soundgarden’s first run. Cameron has been pounding the skins for Pearl Jam for about a decade or more now, so he’s never really been out of the grunge/rock picture, but it’s great to hear Shepherd back on the four string. Like Thayil equals grunge guitar, Shepherd equal grunge bass. Cameron has long, as easily, proven himself to be the best drummer to emerge from the Seattle scene of the early ‘90s, and he just simply continues to prove this fact with his drumming on “Live to Rise.”

“Live to Rise” simply whets our appetite for Soundgarden’s new album, due later this year, and I for one cannot wait for it to drop. Long live the grunge!

4 out of 5 Stars

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