- - 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.

“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.

“Welcome to my revolution!” she sings on the album’s flagship song, “Army of Me.” “Lotus” doesn’t sound like revolution, though. It’s a surrender to modern trends, a sign that one of pop music’s brightest lights has decided to lay down her guns and do whatever it takes — including assimilating herself into the Top 40 pack — to maintain her fame.

¡Dos!

Green Day

Reprise

★★★

Two months after releasing “¡Uno!,” Green Day returns with a second collection of fast, furious pop-punk songs, cramming 13 tunes into less than 40 minutes. There’s an emphasis on garage rock this time around, too, which makes “¡Dos!” sound like something by Green Day’s alter ego, Foxboro Hot Tubs.

Most of these songs are anchored by fast tempos, power chords and Billy Joe Armstrong’s sugary melodies, but “¡Dos!” makes a bigger impact whenever it deviates from the norm. “Nightlife” features a cameo by rapper Lady Cobra, and “Amy” finds Billy Joe Armstrong paying tribute to the late Amy Winehouse.

A ‘50s-styled ballad anchored by guitar arpeggios and heartfelt vocals, “Amy” doubles as a commentary on the perils of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. Mr. Armstrong, still in rehab after falling off the wagon earlier this year, might as well be singing about himself. Earlier Green Day albums had no room for that sort of meta-commentary, but “Amy” proves that these 40-somethings know how to age gracefully.