Archive for the ‘Music’ Category


Chris Cornell – Superunknown?

March 27, 2009

Add an Image

If you are a fan of Chris Cornell, follow his solo work and can boast a modest collection of material from Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog and Audioslave, then you’re probably aware of the release of his latest solo project, Scream, which hit store shelves on March 10th.  You’re also probably aware of the huge backlash this album has received from fans and critics alike.  This brings us to one of two scenarios: One, you’ve already picked up the album, listened to it and are trying desperately to cope with reality, or two, you’ve heeded the warnings of the critics and whining of the fan-boys and avoided the album altogether.  If the latter holds true, I invite you to click the link above and sample the title track from this album.  Be forewarned – if you’re expecting a rock album that even remotely resembles anything Chris has involved himself with in the past, I recommend a frontal lobotomy to clear your mind of such foolishness.  Because that’s what it will take to listen to this album all the way through without cringing as though someone were running their fingernails down a chalkboard.  I’m not normally this blunt about an artist or band that I like.  Even if their new material is a sidestep from what I’m accustomed to, I try to approach it with an open mind and not judge an album until I’ve listened it through a couple of times.  Scream is more a sky dive attempt than a sidestep, and time will tell if the parachute deploys in time to shield the impact.

There’s a lot of change going on in music and movies, and I’m still trying to evaluate the collateral damage and decide if it’s change for the better or not.  There’s no shortage of shock factor out there.  Most of you have probably heard of Joaquin Phoenix’s decision to quit acting, quit shaving and quit talking during during interviews on late-night shows to pursue a career in hip-hop.  You may as well tell an astronaut to work in a salt mine.  Considering that, I guess I shouldn’t be all that surprised that Cornell has made this sonic shift from rock to shock.  As they say, if you want to succeed in this world, you must be willing to embrace change.  Chris Cornell appears to have embraced it, but will the fans?  I’ve spent a considerable amount of time reading reviews and comments on this album, and unfortunately the conclusion I’ve come to is that most people are probably going to turn a deaf ear to Cornell’s latest musical effort.  Nonetheless, I’m going to try to breathe some life back into this album with a little bit of objective criticism.  I’ve listened to Scream a couple of times now, and since working the OMGWTF’s out of my system, I can take a step back and appreciate the good things about this album – and there are good things, you just need to open your ears.

I’m not going to do a track-by-track review of  Scream.  There are plenty of reviews and blogs out there that do a fine job of tearing this album apart one track at a time.  It’s no wonder why musical artists are under so much pressure.  There’s so much negative, violent feedback about this album from fans and critics that you’d think Chris Cornell had personally visited each one of their homes, left a bag of flaming dog crap on their porch and then stole their car after ringing the doorbell.  People are using terms like “sell-out” and “mid-life crisis” to explain the alleged aural train wreck that they’ve endured.  Let’s examine these accusations for a moment…   I think it’s reasonable to assume that Chris is a pretty smart guy.  He hasn’t enjoyed the twenty-some-odd years off success he’s had as a rock artist without making some right choices.  That being said, I’m sure there there was a moment or two where he lied awake in bed, staring at the ceiling, thinking that there was at least a small chance that teaming up with Timbaland to create club anthems backed by his vocals may not hit it off well with the fans.  You just don’t do this sort of thing and not think it through.  For me, that in itself is proof that he hasn’t sold out to anyone.  If Cornell’s primary goal were to sell albums and make money, he would’ve reunited with Soundgarden and embarked on a revival tour, which seems to be a trend with aging rock stars that can’t afford to take their private choppers to the beach anymore.  To me, a move like that would reek of a mid-life crisis.  On the other side of the coin, if he’s looking to tap into a new fan base, then this metamorphosis into a new genre may pave the way.  Again, time will tell, as most club goers probably wont recognize the name Chris Cornell.

So let’s delve a little bit into the material itself.  There’s no question that Timbaland’s fingerprints are all over this album.  This is evident from the moment you start the first track, Part Of Me.  As you listen to the strange cacophony of sound coming from your speakers, the satire of the cover art photo of Cornell smashing a guitar begins to set in.  Guitar riffs are replaced with a myriad of synths.  Kicks, snares, toms and cymbals are replaced with computerized drum machines.  Cornell’s voice, while immediately distinguishable, is heavily layered, looped and processed.  The dance club aura of the opening track is punctuated by lyrics that echo, “That bitch aint a part of me” over and over again.  For die hard Chris Cornell fans, that in itself would be enough for them to eject the disc and angrily set it on the bottom shelf, never to be opened again.  Part Of Me doesn’t waste any time with superficial, drawn-out introductions that are designed to serve as a lubricant for helping people adjust to change.  Rather, it approaches the listener with the delicacy of a wrecking ball, shoving this new sound in your face in a prideful, remorse-less way that suggests Cornell has been infused with some new-found angst.  Of all the hurdles on this album that listeners will be asked to overcome, by far Part Of Me will be the first, and biggest one.

While Part Of Me sets the tone for the rest of the album, I don’t believe it to be a good spokesperson for it.  For an easier transition to Cornell’s new sound, I would recommend checking out the title track, Scream.  In my opinion, it’s the best track on the album, and deserves a good listen.  Other less grunge-defying tracks include Long Gone, and Climbing Up The Walls.  All of these songs still contain some shock factor, but have less of an in-your-face approach.  All three songs are charged with an infectious melody, a subwoofer-moving beat and of course Cornell’s unmistakable voice, which sounds as good as ever.  You wont hear him try to span four octaves, but there’s no question that his voice is the shining beacon amidst the murky layers of drum beats, synths and reverb.

After you’ve listened to those three songs (more than once, I hope), recovered from the initial shock and eased yourself into Chris Cornell and Timbaland’s latest collaboration effort, then you can approach the rest of the album.  Admittedly, there are tracks on Scream that hold absolutely no appeal to me, but this can be said for any album.  As an interesting benediction, Cornell ends Scream off with a “hidden” track, Two Drink Minimum, which is apparently co-written by John Mayer.  Once again, we ride the train of metamorphosis to a raw, uncluttered blues offering that almost seems like an afterthought to the album as a whole.  If Scream came in like a lion, it certainly goes out like a lamb, or for some, maybe like a dog with its tail tucked between its legs.

Whether you’re a fan of Chris Cornell or not, I truly believe that Scream has something to offer beyond the superficial, post-modern dance grooves that the album is accused of promoting.  I’ve read posts by bloggers and critics that claim you will either love, or hate this album.  I disagree entirely, because I can at least speak for myself when I say that I neither love, nor hate Scream.  Is it different than what I’m accustomed to hearing from one of my all-time mid-nineties grunge heroes?  Yes.  Is it a bold and ambitious move that has a moderate chance of failure?  No question.  Do I think any less of Chris Cornell as an artist, accuse him of consorting with the enemy (Timbaland) and being a sell-out?  No way.  For me, there’s enough good material on Scream to justify the death-defying transition of genre.  It’s unfortunate that most people will dismiss this album as nothing more than a failed attempt at a Vulcan mind meld between a rock venue and a dance club, but what can I say?  Most people adhere to the old adage that states, if it aint broke, don’t fix it.  So why did Chris Cornell spend twenty years building his reputation as one of the industry’s most prolific rock artists, only to pull a one-eighty and release an oddball like Scream?  Only Chris Cornell knows, and only the fans have the power to decide if it’s worked for him or not.