Singles Party: ‘Been Away Too Long’ by Soundgarden

pop-break debuts a new column …

Welcome to the first edition of Pop-Break.com’s Singles Party, a weekly column where a panel of six members of Pop-Break’s staff come together to discuss some of the hottest songs in the music scene — whether they be a new release, a milestone, or something that’s burning up the charts.

Our panel is made up of Pop-Break forefathers Bill Bodkin, Brent Johnson and Jason Kundrath; senior writers Joe Zorzi and Lauren Stern; and prize prodigy Kelly Gonsalves. Each writer will give their opinion on whether this song should grace your computer (add to the playlist) or is something you give a listen to and then move on (one and done).

This week, we look at a single that has been received plenty of airplay this fall, and one we’d consider a “milestone” song. ‘Been Away Too Long’ is the first single off of alt icons Soundgarden’s first full-length record of original work since 1997: King Animal. The album sees the reunion of the classic ‘Garden line-up with Chris Cornell on lead vocals, Kim Thayil on guitar, Matt Cameron on drums and Ben Shepherd on bass.

So is ‘Been Away Too Long’ a single that proves Soundgarden has “been away too long” to still be relevant or is it the comeback song we’ve been waiting for all these years?

Lauren Stern: This is supposed to be Soundgarden’s comeback single? Don’t get me wrong, it’s not totally terrible, but it’s definitely not the band’s best work. Upon listening, I expected a strong, hard rock song similar to what the band has done before but this is definitely far from that. I haven’t heard the rest of King Animal, yet but I hope for Soundgarden’s sake that the rest of the songs are a lot better than this one. Verdict: One and Done.

Jason Kundrath: Full disclosure: I am a Soundgarden fan. I rank their last two studio albums (1994’s Superunknown and 1996’s Down On The Upside) among the best and most original hard rock albums of that decade. But when I heard they were heading back to the studio for another album, I was skeptical. Could they possibly rekindle that explosive chemistry? Could the new material hold a candle to their landmark catalog? Can you really go home again? Well, it turns out you can’t. The aptly-titled ‘Been Away Too Long’ is a spirited but hollow attempt to reintroduce the band to the world after an epic 16-year stretch. Cornell’s famously strained, classic-rock vocals are front and center, but they sound a little tired and surprisingly pitch-y on the opening lines . And while the best Soundgarden tunes deliver a heavy, sexy and vaguely evil vibe, ‘Been Away Too Long’ sounds clunky and undercooked in comparison, despite it’s uptempo and eager approach. To be sure, the band does some Soundgarden-esque things along the way: the riffs, the rhythmic-variations, and even some of Kim Thayil’s strange, dissonant guitar work. But it all merely serves to remind the knowing listener of how awesome they used to be. Should new rock fans listen to Soundgarden? Absolutely. Thankfully, their good albums are available on iTunes. Verdict: One and Done.

Kelly Gonsalves: Soundgarden is one of those bands that I grew up hearing about in passing merely as a name without ever actually hearing much of their music. I would care to say that this song (and band in general) certainly sounds its age — but that’s coming from a kid who wasn’t even alive when the group was formed. The general structure of alternating between line and guitar rift itself feels a little outdated, and the grungy garage sound is not all too dissimilar from most of the beginner tracks on my ol’ RockBand 2. However, credit must be given where credit is due: ‘Been Away Too Long’ is a song that stays true to its genre, and if that genre happens to be the one that gets your guns going, then this may just be the tune for you. The construction and vocal quality aren’t overly impressive as far as I’m concerned, but there’s certainly enough energy in this track to get you nodding along by the second listen and screaming along by the third. Verdict: Add to your Playlist.

Joe Zorzi: Soundgarden is finally back with a new album, and it’s only fitting their lead single is entitled ‘Been Away Too Long.’ I want to be excited, I do. But man, this track does not do it for me. It has a catchy chorus, but there’s not too much else going for it. The guitar riff is cool but it’s repetitive and gets old. I guess my real problem is that it doesn’t seem to bring anything new to the table. So no, unless you’re a big Soundgarden fan I would say don’t listen. Verdict: One and Done.

Brent Johnson: If Nirvana were the Beatles and Pearl Jam were the Rolling Stones of grunge, then Soundgarden were The Who — never the top act but always strong. In other words, look for their Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction over the next few years. But ‘Been Away Too Long’ doesn’t add much to their canon. Kim Thayal’s riff is paint-by-numbers hard rock. Chris Cornell sounds more strained than reinvigorated. And for such a highly touted comeback, couldn’t the video clip include at least one shot of the band? Overall: Not bad, but not great. Verdict: One and Done.

Bill Bodkin: Color me shocked at my fellow Singles Party panelists. While ‘Been Away Too Long’ isn’t going to stand up in a fight against the band’s more rockier classics like ‘My Wave’ or ‘Spoon Man,’ this is still worth a download. The band has produced a muscular, riff-oriented lead single that shows that they are still as tight as ever and that Chris Cornell still has those rock chops securing entrenched in his wonderful vocal chords. For those displeased with alt-rock’s shift into the second coming of New Wave and more mainstream rock’s descent into country, ‘Been Away Too Long’ is the song the scene kinda needs. A strong tune from the old guard, who still understand what rock ‘n’ roll is. Verdict: Add to Your Playlist.

So there you have it. The majority rules, and we’re saying that Soundgarden’s “Been Away Too Long” is something you can listen to once, then move along. It’s not a bad song by any means, we were just definitely expecting much more from this iconic band.

Founded in September 2009, The Pop Break is a digital pop culture magazine that covers film, music, television, video games, books and comics books and professional wrestling.

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