The creative chemistry between Cornell and the former Rage trio was apparent to all concerned from the get-go, so the (still unnamed) band wrote around 20 new songs during three weeks of intensive rehearsals. On a roll, they elected to begin recording their first album, with Rubin producing.
Settling on their new name, Audioslave, the group’s eponymous debut was released in November 2002. The band deliberately shied away from embellishments and unnecessary overdubs, so, despite Rubin’s state-of-the-art production, Audioslave still sounds like a classic early 70s hard rock LP, with Cornell adopting his most primal, Robert Plant-esque roar on the LP’s mean first 45, ‘Cochise’, and Morello’s menacing, Tony Iommi-style riffing driving ‘Show Me How To Live’. Elsewhere, though, there was light and shade aplenty, not least on the rugged, emotional ballad ‘I Am The Highway’ and the philosophical, existentialism-wracked ‘Like A Stone’.
Housed in a cover featuring a memorable image of an eternal flame designed by Storm Thorgerson of Hipgnosis (the highly respected team previously responsible for many of Pink Floyd’s legendary LP sleeves), Audioslave met with a mixed critical response, but quickly connected with fans. It entered America’s Billboard 200 at No.7, selling 162,000 copies in its first week, and was certified gold within a month of release, eventually going on to achieve triple-platinum status.
To support the album, Audioslave embarked on a series of high-profile promotional performances, including a brief but well-received set on the roof of the Ed Sullivan Theatre, on Broadway, New York, for The Late Show With David Letterman, in November 2002. They later toured extensively during 2003, turning in critically acclaimed performances at the (then recently revived) Lollapalooza touring festival in the US.
The band took a break throughout 2004, during which time Morello worked on his solo project, The Nightwatchman. Audioslave next reconvened towards the end of the year, when they began work on their second album, Out Of Exile, with Rick Rubin again manning the console in the studio. During the run up to the LP’s release, the band undertook a tour of small rock clubs across the US, where they performed a few of Soundgarden and Rage Against The Machine’s most enduring hits, including ‘Black Hole Sun’ and ‘Bulls On Parade’. They also became the first US rock outfit to perform an open-air concert in the socialist republic of Cuba, when they played a free show to an estimated 50,000 people at La Tribuna Antiimperialista Jose Marti, in Havana, on 6 May 2005.
Released that same month, the band’s second album for Epic/Interscope, Out Of Exile, was again a formidable presence in the charts, debuting at No.1 on the US Billboard 200, topping the Canadian charts, and climbing to No.5 in the UK. Content-wise, most of the record’s best moments (‘Your Time Has Come’; the abrasive titular song) consolidated on the anthemic, radio-friendly sound of Audioslave rather than breaking new ground, though Cornell weighed in with a couple of his most affecting vocal performances on ‘Doesn’t Remind Me’ and the redemptive, Screaming Trees-esque ‘Dandelion’.
Audioslave again embarked on a round of promotional duties following the release of Out Of Exile. First off, they toured in Europe (appearing at the Live 8 benefit concert in Berlin, on 2 July) before embarking on a headlining arena tour of North America, which stretched from September through to the end of November 2005. Featuring the band’s rapturously received Havana concert, the Live In Cuba DVD was issued while the tour was still rolling, and it was certified platinum within two months of release.
Keeping the pressure on, Audioslave returned to the studio to write a fresh batch of songs between their European and US tours of 2005, and, by January 2006, they were back in the studio laying down the tracks for their third album, Revelations, this time with Brendan O’Brien (who had mixed Out Of Exile) occupying the producer’s chair.
Released in September 2006, Revelations again breathed plenty of Audioslave’s trademark rock’n’roll fire, though it also successfully incorporated some unlikely 60s and 70s soul and funk influences into the mix. Kick-started by Morello’s ‘Theme From Shaft’-esque wah-wah guitar, ‘One And The Same’ also featured a feverish, Sly Stone-inflected wail from Cornell, while the LP’s infectious second single, ‘Original Fire’, was propelled along by Wilk’s stomping, Motown-style backbeat.
Lyrically, Cornell was stretching himself too. Previously, his songs had dealt almost exclusively with personal themes ranging from love to hedonism and spirituality, yet one of Revelations’ most resonant tracks, ‘Wide Awake’, (which commented on George W Bush’s administration and the devastating Hurricane Katrina) featured politically charged invective far more redolent of Rage Against The Machine.
Overall, Revelations was perhaps Audioslave’s most satisfying release to date, but with Cornell preoccupied working with composer David Arnold on ‘You Know My Name’ – the theme song for the 2006 James Bond film, Casino Royale – Audioslave opted not to tour and instead went on indefinite hiatus. Rumours that Cornell was leaving the group were initially denied, but, in February 2007, he officially quit the band and recorded his second solo LP, Carry On, with U2 producer Steve Lillywhite.
Revelations performed well, going on to sell almost a million copies worldwide even without the band tour in support of it. After Audioslave disbanded, Morello, Commerford and Wilk reformed Rage Against The Machine with Zack de la Rocha for the 2007 Coachella Festival, though they have yet to record any new material. In 2010, Soundgarden, too, reunited, with Chris Cornell back at the mic, and released an acclaimed new album, King Animal, in 2012; at present they remain a going concern.
That there could yet be a post-script to Audioslave’s story isn’t beyond the bounds of possibility. In 2013, Cornell and Morello shared the stage at the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, and, on 26 September 2014, Cornell made a guest appearance at a Seattle solo show of Morello’s, their set including several Audioslave numbers. More recently, in an August 2015 interview with Total Guitar, Cornell enthusiastically replied, “I think it would be great,” when asked if he would consider reuniting with Audioslave. So, with the future unwritten, who knows what might yet happen. After all, in the mercurial world of rock’n’roll, you can never really say never.
It's subtle, but telling, that the cover of Audioslave's eponymous debut is designed by Storm Thorgerson, the artist behind Pink Floyd's greatest album sleeves. Thorgerson, along with Roger Dean, epitomized the look of the '70s, the era of supergroups, which is precisely what Audioslave is -- a meeting of Rage Against the Machine, minus Zack de la Rocha, with former Soundgarden vocalist Chris Cornell. Though both bands were leading lights of alt-metal in the '90s, the two came from totally separate vantage points: Rage Against the Machine was fearlessly modern, addressing contemporary politics over Tom Morello's hip-hop-influenced guitar, while Soundgarden dredged up '70s metal fueled with the spirit of punk. That these two vantage points don't quite fit shouldn't be a surprise -- there is little common ground between the two, apart that they're refugees from brainy post-metal bands. Of the two camps, Chris Cornell exerts the strongest influence, pushing the Rage Against the Machine boys toward catchier hooks and introspective material. Occasionally, the group winds up with songs that play to the strengths of both camps, like the storming lead single "Cochise." For Cornell fans, it's a relief to hear him unleash like this, given the reserve of his brooding solo debut, but this is hardly a one-man show. The Rage band, led by the intricate stylings of guitarist Tom Morello, gets their chance to shine, including on numbers that are subtler and shadier than the average Rage tune. Which brings up the primary fault on the album: Perhaps Morello, and perhaps the rest of RATM, are technically more gifted than, say, Soundgarden, but they never sound as majestic, as powerful, or as cinematic as what Cornell's songs need. His muted yet varied solo album proved that he needed muscle, but here it's all muscle, no texture or color. Consequently, many of the songs sound like they're just on the verge of achieving liftoff, never quite reaching their potential. There are moments, usually arriving in the first half, where Audioslave suddenly, inexplicably clicks, sounding like a band, not a marketer's grand scheme. Still, these moments are few and far between and it's hard to get through this album as a whole. By the end, it's clear that this pairing was a clever idea, but not an inspired one.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Given the short distance separating Audioslave's second album, Out of Exile, in 2005 and their third, Revelations, in 2006, it's easy to assume that the Rage Against the Machine/Soundgarden supergroup has finally turned into an actual working band -- either that or the group is working hard to get to the end of their contract so they can go their separate ways (a suspicion stoked by the flurry of Chris Cornell-centric press surrounding its release, including the announcement that he's recording a solo album and will be singing the theme song for the new James Bond film, Casino Royale, on his own). Whether or not either theory is proven true over time doesn't change the fact that Revelations builds upon Out of Exile, sounding even more like the work of a genuine band than its predecessor. In light of this record, Out of Exile feels driven by Cornell, which itself was a shift away from the Rage-driven debut. Here, the two are integrated fully into a distinctive sound, one that's tight and focused, one that's aggressive but not overly heavy. Also, Audioslave has become increasingly rhythm-driven instead of riff-driven; even on the slower songs and heavy rockers, the pulse and pull of the rhythm defines the song more than the riff. Given this emphasis on rhythm, it's not a surprise that Audioslave displays an overt funk and soul influence here, ranging from the hard funk of "One and the Same" to the Motown homage of "Original Fire." This not only makes Revelations sound like the result of a working band, one that likes to jam together, but it also gives it a lighter feel in its tone, a feeling that Cornell runs with on his lyrics and singing, which are considerably less tortured and brooding than before. All this doesn't necessarily make Revelations a fun album -- making music is serious work for Audioslave and they expect the same from their audience -- but it does make for their most colorful, diverse, and consistent record yet. Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Given that most supergroups last little longer than a single album, it was easy to assume that Audioslave -- the pairing of Soundgarden vocalist Chris Cornell and the instrumental trio at the core of Rage Against the Machine -- was a one-off venture. That suspicion was given weight by their eponymous 2002 debut, which sounded as if Cornell wrote melodies and lyrics to tracks RATM wrote after the departure of Zack de la Rocha, but any lingering doubts about Audioslave being a genuine rock band are vanished by their 2005 second album, Out of Exile. Unlike the first record, Out of Exile sounds like the product of a genuine band, where all four members of the band contribute equally to achieve a distinctive, unified personality. It's still possible to hear elements of both Rage and Soundgarden here, but the two parts fuse relatively seamlessly, and there's a confidence to the band that stands in direct contrast to the halting, clumsy attack on the debut. A large part of the success of Out of Exile is due to the songs, which may be credited to the entire group but are clearly under the direction of Cornell, sounding much closer to his past work than anything in Rage's catalog. Even the simple riff-driven rockers are tightly constructed songs with melodies and dramatic tension -- they lead somewhere instead of running in circles -- while the ballads have a moody grace and there's the occasional left-field surprise like the sunny, sweet psych-pop gem "Dandelion"; it's the strongest set of songs Cornell has written in a decade. Which is not to say that Out of Exile is without excesses, but they're almost all from guitarist Tom Morello; his playing can still seem laborious, particularly when he clutters single-string riffs with too many notes (the otherwise fine opener, "Your Time Has Come," suffers from this), and his elastic stomp box excursions verge on self-parody on occasion. Still, these are isolated moments on an album that's otherwise lean, hard, strong, and memorable, a record that finds Audioslave coming into its own as a real rock band. Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine