Born and raised in Seattle, Washington, Cornell comes from an Irish Catholic background. Music was important from a young age when he first got hooked on The Beatles. His early band The Shemps enjoyed some local success and would feature guitarist Kim Thayil and bassist Hiro Yamamoto – all three being founding members of Soundgarden. Along with Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam and the mighty Nirvana, Soundgarden sprang to national and international fame thanks to albums like Badmotorfinger, Superunknown and Down on the Upside, a disc whose more experimental approach informed Chris’s own nascent solo activities. Euphoria Morning (original working title Euphoria Mourning) appeared in 1999 via Interscope Records and eventually peaked in the Billboard Top 200 at 18.
Made following the demise of Soundgarden and before he formed Audioslave with friends from Rage Against the Machine, Cornell teamed up with Alain Johannes (Eleven) and his partner, the late Natasha Shneider. The results are atmospheric with a psychedelic edge. John Freese’s skillful drumming is a plus, also the brief appearance by Jason Falkner from Jellyfish. The opening “Can’t Change Me” is a high tempo pop ballad while “Wave Goodbye” is a heartfelt tribute to Jeff Buckley. A smart, considered album with Shneider’s layered keys and percussion underpinning Johannes’ guitars, mandolin, table and clarinet this is worthy of rediscovery. At first sight this was so unlike Soundgarden as to be unrecognizable but the whole point of doing something different fired the project: a credo Cornell has maintained since.
Audioslave was a return to the roots of grunge and funk rock and kept Chris occupied for the next eight years thanks to the self-titled debut, Out of Exile and Revelations. His own career resumes with the aptly named Carry On where he works with English producer Steve Lillywhite and Captain Beefheart’s wizard guitarist Gary Lucas. Once again he confounds expectations by moving away from the Audioslave template and mining a seam of adult rock with grown up lyrics – “No Such Thing” and “Arms Around Your Love” – as well as a fine cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and the first appearance of his Bond piece “You Know My Name”. We recommend the disc with bonus tracks and rate this album highly.
A switch to Mosley and Suretone for Scream heralded another diversion into electronic pop and psych with Timbaland as executive producer and Justin Timberlake and Ryan Tedder attending sessions. Aiming for a conceptual feeling based on his love of 1970s British rock groups like Pink Floyd and Queen Cornell managed to concoct a truly bizarre fusion with beats and soul breaks. Definitely a disc that divides opinion we rather think that makes it a prime candidate for discovery. The Bonus tracks version adds six extra songs, mostly co-written with new accomplice James Washington and Tim (balake) Mosley. Reframed and rejuvenated by a change of scenery the combination of dance floor tracks, snatches of Bollywood and speedy beats added up to a bold move.
The live and acoustic Songbook accompanies the tour of that name from 2011 and is purely solo, bar enthusiastic audience participation! Classic Cornell abounds from “Scar on the Sky” to “Cleaning My Gun” plus a variety of Soundgarden and Audioslave favourites. Add in his version of Led Zeppelin’s “Thank You” (from Led Zeppelin 11) and a delightful take on John Lennon’s “Imagine” and you’ve got a distinctive slab of rock history under one roof.
So to Higher Truth, the long awaited follow-up that has been finished during a Soundgarden reunion hiatus. Over an hour of the man at his best, Higher Truth sounds not settled, far from that, but soaked in experience. “Worried Moon” and “Murder of Blue Skies” are epic Cornell, likewise “Bend in the Road” and “Misery Chain.” Best of all is “Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart”, a marriage of Robert Plant and Paul Rodgers – total classic rock with spellbinding instrumentation and magnificent production. This sounds like one of the best things we’ve heard all year and is already trending thanks to Chris’s nigh on 2 million Twitter followers. With a convincing reaction from the dedicated fan base Higher Truth is going to be a 2015 event for sure. Reason enough to enjoy the moment and then to go back and get yourself a little discovery.
Words: Max Bell
Anyone expecting Chris Cornell to rehash and recycle well-pioneered paths from previous albums is in for a pleasant surprise with "Carry On". For Cornell, musical exploration and adventurous spirit trumps churning out variations on a commercially proven theme, a danger that his last band Audioslave flirted with at times on "Out of Exile" (2005) and "Revelations" (2006). It's no wonder then that Cornell was ready to strike out again on his own. Conscious reinvention or natural evolution, the results are magnificent and hardly unexpected given the recent tectonic shifts in Cornell's personal life. Having openly abandoned substance abuse, Cornell went through an apparently acrimonious divorce, married anew, had two new children, took up residence in France and restored and opened a hip Paris restaurant and club, "Black Calavados". It's not that there aren't nostalgic Cornell trademarks throughout the material -- to the contrary, actually: familiar chord progressions, riffs, vocal patterns and lyrical themes are judiciously (and naturally) integrated into the material. The shifting riff-driven hook of "No Such Thing" recalls both recent Audioslave work and Soundgarden hits of yore. Hardcore Soundgarden fans will recognize the chorus chord progression of the rocking "Poison Eye" as uncannily similar to "Down on the Upside" (1996) B-Side "Karaoke". Hooks abound in infectious pop gem "Arms Around Your Love", laden with rich harmonies, most notably in the chorus. Ostensibly a whipping from a vicious Monday-morning quarterback of a conscience about failures that drove a lover into another's arms, it's really a broader reflection of regret for things that weren't said when it counted. In this context, "she" could be interpreted as one's sense of regret ("she's gonna make you pay for it"), and the "he" with his "arms around your love" could be death, rather than the lover for whom your lover left you.
"Safe and Sound" is extraordinarily well crafted in its evolution from observing global dysfunction, to diagnosing the causes thereof, to prognosis, if not prescription, for cure. Tapping into the zeitgeist of angst and uncertainty in the face of rampant consumerism, environmental destruction, tribalism, tyranny, militarism and terrorism, the quavering uncertainty of "Safe and Sound" in the verses nevertheless rises and resolves in the pre-chorus, chorus and bridge into a heartening, almost defiant optimism. After all, Cornell believes in a promised land. "Silence the Voices", epic and sweeping, embodies a cinematic sturm und drang not found in Cornell's work since Soundgarden's "Superunknown" (1994). The military drum, down-tuned chord progression, fluid bass and jangly guitar provide an ominous yet melancholy backdrop for the theme. Cornell is more at home in this type of broader social criticism than in the current-events-driven "Rage"-style anger of Audioslave's "Wide Awake", promising a more lasting relevance to this song than "Wide Awake". To be sure, the torment, depression, and ambivalence about fame that dogged Cornell through the time of his last solo album "Euphoria Morning" (1999) resulted in some profound music and lyrics. But although we are reminded in the chorus of the richly rewarding "Ghosts" that the old Cornell "doesn't live here anymore", it's just a less tormented, more assured adult into which the old Cornell has grown. "Carry On" amply demonstrates that love, optimism, passion for life and a sense of responsibility are an equally fertile source of inspiration for an artist of Cornell's prodigious talents.
Words: Greg Garfield
OK, from jump, I'll say this is one of those releases either people really love, or really hate. It definitely polarizes music fans...but before deciding to hate it, give it a chance. I will admit; when I first gave this album a listen, I thought to myself "what the HELL?????!!!!" I didn't think the Timbaland/Cornell collab was such a good idea. And I honestly shelved it. I say the following to put this review in context: I am a huge fan of music in general - as well as a very harsh critic at times - and it seems as if I go through genre seasons where I'll find musical satiation in different realms. Predominantly that had been w/ jazz, but the evolution is ever happening. A good month later - about now - I decided to give this album another chance while in the office trying to get work done...and now I seem to be addicted to Chris' voice. I had of course heard him before, but sometimes it takes an artist deviating a bit from their norm (or what their fans BELIEVE is their norm; its all relative) to really give them the attention they deserve. And yet, having said that, Chris' norm appears to be deviation...and I really dig that (being an artist myself). He had/has the courage to follow where the muse leads, and wasn't afraid to do so. That's one of the main reasons I gave this album five stars. The man's voice is phenomenal...its a living contradiction; a damn sonic boom. It has a weathered quality that makes listeners subconsciously know the experiences; feel the pain and happiness he's lived through. He can gently soar to echelons, then flip it and give you one of the earthiest growls you've ever heard. "Long Gone" gives me goosebumps. I don't know...there's something about the way he sings "you need to let me fly alone..." that rings and reverbs in my head. I dig the calm w/ which he approaches "Scream". In this track, he's the stability amidst chaos. And, there's something primal about they way he belts out "hey..." You have to listen to know what I mean. I like the funk of "Ground Zero," and the masochism of "Enemy." Really the only track on this release I could do w/out is "Part Of Me." In my opinion, this album was designed to be listened to in one sitting. The songs mesh into one long, continuous track w/ instrumentals making the segues. Its important to listen to the songs in their respective contexts to really get it. This release has some rockable beats as well(its hard to mistake Timbaland's contributions). Lastly: after seeing Chris perform "Scream" live, I'm really hoping he releases an acoustic and/or live version of it. The guitars just take it to another level and minimize the sometimes pop-like feel.
Chris Cornell absolutely is one of the greatest vocalists of all time. Before Songbook tour, he had been constantly criticized for his unstable vocal performances. I believe that the critics were somewhat right for the Audioslave era in which Chris also admitted that he had problems with alcohol and smoking that could have affected his vocal ability during that time. But man... The Old Chris is back. I watched one of the tours last May in Seattle, and his vocal performance was a way beyond my expectation. After seeing his concert, I also have been watching his Songbook tour videos on Youtube and I have to say that he sounded so good throughout the tour. To me, he sounds even better than how he sounded when he was in Soundgarden in the early 90s. The voice is more mature and powerful than ever before. What surprises me is that his vocal performance was so stable throughout the entire tour despite that he had to perform without much gap between tour dates. Having just one or two days off after performing more than two hours for three or four days in a row, and then performing again, on and on, for a few months is not an easy thing for any musician. Although this may not be much of a problem for many singers whose songs do not require much of vocal range, this is not the case for Chris, as many of his songs are above high C. Also, we all know many vocalists, even those who are considered the greatest of all time, could not maintain their quality of voice when they turned about age of 40. Chris is almost 50 now...! He deserves much respect for keeping his singing ability. As you may hear from the tracks, he does not have any problem with hitting right pitch. "Call Me A Dog", for example, goes up around high E or F, but he sounds just fine hitting that note. Now if you think about it, what kind of musicians nowadays can hit that note with power, timbre and soul like Chris's while playing a guitar at the same time? Not just this, but also, without losing voice after performing for more than two hours for three or four days in a row? I certainly can't think of anyone. Of course, vocal range and power are not the only factors that define a good singer, but they certainly indicate the singer's vocal ability. I am so glad to see that Chris gained his master vocal ability back, and I strongly hope he does more tour like Songbook in the future. A tiny little complain I have about this album is that I wish they made it into two CDs because there are so many songs from the tour that could have been included, such as "Say Hello 2 Heaven", "Preaching the End of the World", "Billie Jean", "Getaway Car","Redemption Song", and especially "When I'm Down". Anyway, just one unofficial acoustic album- Unplugged In Sweden - was not adequate for a great acoustic live performer like Chris; fans certainly want more. This Songbook album is a must have for all those who thirst for 'that vocal performance'.
Following the demise of Soundgarden in 1997, everyone was curious what Chris Cornell would do next. Would he immerse himself in another band where he could display his blood-curdling screams or would he surprise everyone with something totally different? He chose the latter. With Natasha Shneider on keys and Alain Johannes on guitars, Cornell found the opportunity to break away from his heavily Zeppelin and Sabbath-rooted musical background, and he also asked some other musicians to make an appearance on the record. The result is a very diverse album, highlighting Cornell's immediately identifiable vocals and relatively simpler songwriting. That said, he had the chance to incorporate a multitude of other instruments, including tambourine, theremin, and timpani. Besides the trademark blues rock-ridden songs that helped Cornell make a name for himself, he also digs deep into psychedelia, best heard on "Preaching the End of the World", a song that finds Cornell opting for thick, Radiohead-like arrangements, lofty acoustics, and a strange mix of keyboard and guitar effects. Not too different is "Disappearing One", guesting Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron with its moving vocal melodies, shimmering keyboards and even a vague clarinet addition. Surely, Soundgarden fans expecting a very heavy record with meaty guitars and lots of aggressive vocals will be sorely disappointed. But they need to realize Euphoria Morning was meant to be different way before Cornell started working on it. Solo projects serve the purpose of letting the artists express themselves in ways they are unable to in their own bands. And considering this, Euphoria Morning is a huge success. That said, there are still some songs where the band behind Cornell churns out some rocking riffs and rhythms, such as "Flutter Girl" and especially "Pillow of Your Bones" during the chorus. The former starts out in an almost poppy fashion but quickly picks up a playful funk bass line and is finished off with a cool blues lead; whereas the latter is more straightforward, employing lots of acoustic and electric guitars as well as weird percussion work. The final song "Steel Rain" is also a number that alternates between decidedly heavier parts and more haunting, ominous moments. The ethnic drumming (great tabla rhythms) on this track is quite experimental given Cornell's music with Soundgarden and later on with Audioslave. "Follow My Way" and "When I'm Down" are the most moving songs, with the latter featuring a deft piano and organ melody beneath Cornell's heartfelt delivery. This is another song that embraces his love for bluesy guitar work and it also features some female backing harmonies during its pre-chorus. Similarly, the title track is a passionate piece where Cornell sings entirely a capella over acoustic guitars. There are no other instruments; Cornell plays his guitar and simply sings his heart out. A remix of the effect-laden "Mission" would later be included on the Mission Impossible 2 soundtrack while "Moonchild" became a minor hit with its eerie atmosphere along with the opening song "Can't Change Me", perhaps the most modern-sounding, upbeat song on the album. Despite being only three minutes though, its flow is majestic, borrowing harmonica, tambourine and shimmering keyboards that climax at the final second. My European copy of the album contains a very different version of the opening song, with French lyrics, accordion, mandolin, and female vocals backing Cornell. The song returns to its English chorus at one point, but the rest is all delivered in French and perhaps more engaging than the original version in some ways. Chris Cornell is one of the greatest voices in rock and this solo album is testimony to his greatness. When freed from any band restrictions, the man is capable of crafting some of the most moving and brutally honest songs ever.
Words: Murat Batmaz