- - Monday, November 12, 2012

King Animal

Soundgarden

Seven Four Entertainment

★★★


It has been 16 years since their last record, but Soundgarden sounds more or less the same on “King Animal,” its grungy, guitar-driven reunion album.

Album cover for Christina Aguilera "Lotus".
Album cover for Christina Aguilera “Lotus”. more >

“I’ve been away too long,” Chris Cornell wails on the album’s first track, speaking for the entire band in a voice that has lost only a bit of its top end. If you want to split hairs, Mr. Cornell hasn’t actually been away — he released a handful of solo albums during Soundgarden’s hiatus, wrote the theme song for one of the “James Bond” films and logged six years as the frontman of Audioslave — but he never sounded as comfortable as he does here, matching Kim Thayil’s guitar licks with a voice that shrieks one minute and croons the next. Sure, he rasps more heavily than he did in 1996, but his voice holds up better than expected.

The guys experiment a bit, throwing some psychedelic turns into the trippy “A Thousand Days Before” and slowing down “Halfway There” to a heavy, midtempo grind. “King Animal” sounds best during the more straightforward moments, though, when Mr. Cornell and company serve up meat-and-potatoes rockers like “Non-State Actor.”

The highlight is “Bones of Birds,” a dark, minor-key song that packs a haunted punch. “Time is my friend,” Mr. Cornell sings, “until it ain’t … and runs out.” That’s a weighty line, delivered by a man who knows the speed at which a rock star can fall from grace, and it gives “King Animal” something that earlier Soundgarden albums lacked: a sort of compelling, real-world desperation.

Lotus

Christina Aguilera

RCA

★★

Christina Aguilera has one of the best voices in pop music. It’s a powerful instrument, capable of piercing highs and deep, rumbling lows in equal measure. So why does her newest album open up with the robotic-sounding “Lotus Intro,” a half-formed tune that replaces her smoky wail with an electronic, AutoTuned croon?

The song doesn’t really sound like Miss Aguilera, and it sets a precedent for the 16 tracks that follow. “Lotus” desperately wants to restore Miss Aguilera to superstar status and erase the memory of her previous album, the poor-selling “Bionic,” from public memory. In doing so, it also erases the things that make her unique.

Filled with self-empowerment anthems, thumping dance beats and glossy production, “Lotus” sounds like every other R&B album in 2012. There are some duets with “The Voice” co-stars Blake Shelton and CeeLo Green, too, lest we forget that Miss Aguilera is a judge on one of TV’s most popular shows. The whole thing feels calculated, and while a few songs allow her to unleash the full power of her voice, that can’t save “Lotus” from dying on the vine.

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