The idea of reviewing a song, particularly one recorded for a summer blockbuster and appearing on a soundtrack alongside the performers of “Crazy Bitch,” seems like a stretch. That is, unless this song is the first new song in 15 years from the reunited Soundgarden. After the initial reaction, the song has to answer a few questions.
“Will this be on the new album?”
“Will all of the songs sound like this?”
“Is this really the same band?”
It’s not fair to ask all of these questions and get in a tizzy based solely on a new song that clocks in at 4:01. Unless, of course, you’re a Soundgarden fan and you’ve been waiting for this moment since 1996. Then, have at it, hoss.
“Live to Rise” is Soundgarden’s first brand new song in well over a decade unless you count last year’s “Black Rain,” a song that was conceived during the recording process back in 1991 for the album Badmotorfinger; it just didn’t make the cut. “Live to Rise” is the real deal, as the first track the members of Soundgarden – Chris Cornell, Kim Thayil, Ben Shepherd, Matt Cameron – have released since breaking up in 1997.
It is the sum of their experiences and influences over the 13-year break, playing in different projects, performing solo, traveling, and watching the changing scenes and times. And it is….eh.
The pieces are all here. It could have been a good song. Chris Cornell wails on high notes in the choruses and before the solos. Kim Thayil beats the “wah” pedal at the end of the track like it owes him money, and the rhythm section of Shepherd (bass) and Cameron (drums) is present. But that’s the extent of it. No real vocal heroics, no psychedelic jams and no jarring time signatures.
What Soundgarden’s addition to the new millennium really feels like is one of the harder rocking tracks from a Chris Cornell solo LP, namely Carry On (also known as not the one where he was depressed and not the one with Timbaland). It fits right along with that album’s lead off, “No Such Thing” and the track that ended up getting used in “Casino Royale,” “You Know My Name.” It follows the tried and true formula of singing quietly in the verse over acoustic strumming, only to bump up to his mid-highs on the chorus. He even goes back to the Audioslave era with a very throaty, hell-hound-howl during the start of the solo.
Even lyrically, the song feels more phoned in than any of Soundgarden’s prior singles, resting on more generic lines of “Like the sun we will live to rise /Like the sun we will live and die /And then /Ignite Again,” which would fit more with Audioslave’s M.O. of mentioning fire, light or the sun in every other song. “Live to Rise” lacks the “existential poetry” (quoth Tom Morello) that Cornell honed with Soundgarden’s mainstream catalog or on his first solo release, Euphoria Morning.
All that said, it is important to remember the point made at the beginning, that “Live to Rise” is the lead single on the soundtrack to “The Avengers,” one of the more bloated summer blockbusters to ever make it to the screen. The next track is by Shine Down. There is also Papa Roach, Buckcherry and Evanescence. Soundgarden did not contribute a track to an album packed with their contemporaries, but crappy rock bands who listened to a lot of Soundgarden songs on their way to the upper-middle. These are bands known for their submission to the pop-format of mainstream, corporate schlock in order to sell singles. The only way for Soundgarden to fit on this album was to dumb down their abilities and make “Live to Rise.” Whoa. Sorry about that, I just had a snobgasm.
And while fans may scoff at what this song lacks, if they take a step back, there is joy to be found in the fact the song even exists. The prospect of Soundgarden writing and releasing new material is exciting as these four musicians are still killing it. But, as a fan, this excitement is based on hope. There’s hope for more of the cohesive originality on the upcoming album, the kind that made each of their major releases in the 90’s so unique and so special. There’s hope that Soundgarden could make the album that has been needed since they disbanded 13 years ago.