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