I really don’t know what to think about Chris Cornell anymore.
A couple days ago my wife downloaded his new single ‘Scream’ – this is the first single off Cornell’s new album, an album that is produced by modern superstar producer ‘Timbaland’. When I first heard this was coming, former Soundgarden frontman vocal-extraordinaire essentially paying to work with the ‘hit factory’ I was stunned. Not because I didn’t see it coming, I mean I didn’t but it’s not that surprising. No, I was stunned because this news served as a tailspin back in time for me. One of my musical idols from my formative years seems to have possibly come to the end of his road. Now, I don’t mean to be insulting to Mr. Cornell or derogative. Let em explain.
There is a certain kind of nostalgic pain watching the artists who have meant so much to us age along with us – these guys and girls make timeless music, so to see they themselves subjected to the aging/failing/degrading* pulls of time is painful for us creatures who do everything in our power to ignore those same tidal energies in our own lives. This is why no matter what U2 will never make another album as good as WAR, the Stooges reunion album SUCKED (and let no one think I blame Mr. Watt for that because I most certainly do not) and as ‘not-bad’ as Metallica’s Death Magnetic is, it still is a throw away. Watching Chris Cornell meander from forgetful solo albums to that band that had the stupid name and the three guys from that other band that had that stupid name (you know, the one everyone thinks is so revolutionary even though they’re really not? The one with only one good album**), all the while still completely in love with his voice and the repeated amazing bursts of pure genius Soundgarden put out in the 90’s has been painful, really fucking painful.
But now here is Mr. Cornell no doubt paying through the nose to work with the latest ‘star-making’ producer and all I can think is, ‘this is either going to be off the charts amazing or embarrassing beyond all belief. And after hearing the single, which I know, I know is never a good place to start judging an album, well, I just don’t know what I think.
I know I don’t hate ‘SCREAM’. Chris’ vocals are strong, even if the words seem like they might be a bit lacking. But it’s hard to judge lyrics – simplicity is often the best route and with an artist like Cornell, where most of his Soundgarden lyrics read more like literature*** switching to simple here may just seem trite. I know that the music sounds a lot like Timbaland’s other stuff – which is not a knock. I respect the guy and like some of what he’s done for pop music, I’m just suspect that this album is going to blow holes in everyone involved’s credibility by trying to take a down on his luck rocker (to over simplify) and try and pitch him to the pop/hiphop audience. That would be a very bad thing. But maybe as much as Cornell obviously wants to stay afloat and relevant he also wants to make something timeless and demographic defying. And maybe as comfortable as Mr. ALand is he also wants to make something big and epic and irresistible – something that will knock down the walls his success in certain genres have built around him and come out of the gates swinging, screaming ‘I can do it all! I can make an amazing rock album not over-saturated with bling-ideals and lowest common denominator appeal!’ Maybe Cornell has gone back into the past and realized that yes, he indeed can Blow up the outside world by giving it a guru it can believe in.
But probably not. And if that’s the case, maybe in a best possible scenario situation Soundgarden will tour again and even though you can’t go home again I’ll finally get to hear Room 1000 Years Wide live****. But I hope I’m wrong and this is the beginning of the rest of Chris Cornell’s musical life after his band.
* Because that’s what we all do: we age and corrode. It’s why some artists retire, why some never do the same thing twice and why some put both barrels of a shotgun in their mouth. Better to burn out than fade away, right?
** No, not the first one where every song but two suffers from the same verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge with a repeated and trying too hard vocal chant/chorus structure that was old by the time the first side of the cassette stopped. Evil Empire is the one I’d burn if I had the chance.
*** It’s common knowledge they all wrote lyrics in the band and they’re mostly amazing – credit where credit is due
**** Painfully ironic that two of my favorite bands from high school and the 90’s, Soundgarden and Faith No More I never got the chance to see live. I’ve more than made up for this with Patton, but have never even dreamed of seeing anything Chris has done since.