The arrival of Soundgarden's thunderous new single "Been Away Too Long" on the Internet this week brought about many reactions. Grown men wept. Children hid under their beds. Skeptical music bloggers rejoiced that what they were hearing sounded quite a bit more toothsome than the the grunge-rock survivors' first new song since reuniting, Avengers blockbuster "Live to Rise." Nobody, probably, thought about Eminem.
Nobody, that is, except Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell, who actually engaged in a fairly astute bit of pop criticism in a radio interview yesterday as he contrasted his lyrical approach with that of the real Slim Shady. Explaining the genesis of "Been Away Too Long" on San Francisco radio station Live 105 (via Blabbermouth), he recalled that the basic idea for the song popped one sleepless night, while he was lying awake listening to what Cornell calls "brain radio." The lyrics came together after another night of insomnia, when the album was almost finished, when he remembered the title phrase and the song "became more autobiographical," he said.
"I don't think I would write lyrics to a Soundgarden album that would be like Eminem writing lyrics to a new Eminem song, which is essentially telling the story of the making of the album and where he feels he exists in pop culture and that kind of thing," Cornell said. "So it's not really that, it's more autobiographical and more of a look back at history in sort of a strange atmospheric way, the way that I write. But the initial spark of the idea did feel like it would be right in the narrative of, yes, we've been out, and we've been gone for 15 years, and now we're back. It's about time, and we still have something to say about rock music that no one else is saying and I feel confident about saying that."
So no, "Been Away Too Long" isn't like Eminem saying it feels so empty "Without Me" — it's more hazily autobiographical — but yeah, also it is kind of like that, a commentary on Soundgarden's place in the culture. What "Been Way Too Long" might not be, for better or worse, is a fair sample of what to expect from the rest of King Animal, the band's first all-new album since 1996's Down on the Upside.
Due out on November 13, the new LP "has a lot of layers to it," Cornell said. ""It's something that it will take time for people to kind of digest, and it's not something that I could describe to you right now or that you will understand based on listening to the first single, for example." He was referring to "Live to Rise," but he added that "if you take any song from the new album, and take it out of context of the new album," it won't be fully indicative, either. After waiting 16 years to find out what the next Soundgarden album sounds like, what's another six weeks or so?