As their line-up featured Soundgarden vocalist Chris Cornell alongside Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk, Audioslave could legitimately refer to themselves as a supergroup before they’d even played a note. Yet, as the Audioslave debut album demonstrated, each member’s celebrity status had neither killed their passion nor quelled their desire to shake up the mainstream with some truly incendiary rock’n’roll.
Listen to the Audioslave debut album right now.
As the likes of Blind Faith, Them Crooked Vultures and another notable Cornell side project, Temple Of The Dog, all prove, rock supergroups tend to have brief, if mercurial lifespans. Audioslave, however, bucked this trend. They went on to craft three terrific albums, enjoyed an excellent personal rapport and could certainly have recorded more if reunions with the bandmembers’ original outfits hadn’t flipped the script.
Everyone concerned, however, would also admit that Audioslave only came to pass because of an influential mutual friend: producer Rick Rubin, who suggested the three Rage instrumentalists hook up with Cornell after they parted company with singer Zack De La Rocha during 2000.
“I immediately thought about [Soundgarden’s] Badmotorfinger,” bassist Tim Commerford later recalled for Alternative Nation. “It’s one of my favourite records. I thought about ‘Slaves & Bulldozers’ and ‘Jesus Christ Pose’, those are songs that are anthems to me. It was so exciting!”
For his part, Chris Cornell was working on a follow-up to his post-Soundgarden solo album Euphoria Morning, but he shelved it after receiving Rubin’s call. Cornell readily agreed to an initial try-out session, during which the new band wrote ‘Light My Way’, one of the key tracks from what would become the Audioslave debut album.
“He stepped to the microphone and sang the song and I couldn’t believe it,” guitarist Tom Morello told Rolling Stone. “It didn’t just sound good, it sounded transcendent. When there is an irreplaceable chemistry from the first moment, you can’t deny it.”
Galvanised by their initial session, the newly-christened Audioslave wrote over 20 songs during three weeks of intensive rehearsals, meaning they could enter the studio to begin recording with Rick Rubin during the summer of 2001. With the sessions shuttling between Seattle and California, the initial impetus slowed, but by the summer of 2002, the album was complete and sounding very promising indeed.
The self-titled record wasted no time in going for the jugular. Kicking off with the suitably visceral ‘Cochise’, the album went on to deliver a slew of formidable tracks, with arena-sized anthems (‘Show Me How To Live’, ‘Gasoline’, the aptly-titled ‘Exploder’) adroitly blending classic 70s hard rock with contemporaneous alt.rock dynamics and Cornell hitting transcendent peaks on the slow-burning ‘Like A Stone’ and the sublime R.E.M.-esque ballad ‘I Am The Highway’. He also dug deep on the brooding ‘Shadow On The Sun’, while the whole band excelled on the epic ‘Light My Way’, on which they married Led Zeppelin-style bombast with liquid funk en route to a suitably grandstanding final coda.
Their gauntlet thrown down, Audioslave discovered their audience were more than happy to accept their new music’s challenge when their self-titled debut album was issued through Epic/Interscope on 19 November 2002. Housed in an eye-catching sleeve designed by Hipgnosis’ legendary Storm Thorgerson (Pink Floyd, Def Leppard), the Audioslave debut album entered the US Billboard 200 at No.7 and was certified gold within a month. The record also spawned four Hot 100 hits, with ‘Like A Stone’ peaking just outside the Top 30 and going on to earn the band a Grammy nomination in 2004.
Audioslave eventually went triple-platinum in the States and the band’s reputation continued to grow over the next few years, with their compelling live shows and 2005’s hard-hitting sophomore release, Out Of Exile, establishing them as an essential group in their own right.
“I see Audioslave as more classic rock, singer, chord progression type of music – things like that we never did with Rage Against The Machine,” Tim Commerford said in 2015. “I think back on Rage and I love the way it feels, but then Audioslave happens and it was so different. That’s the thing I am most proud of. We didn’t just come back and make a bunch of riff rock and put Chris’ vocals on it. We did something genuinely different.”
The career-spanning Chris Cornell anthology, covering his work with Soundgarden, Audioslave and Temple Of The Dog, plus solo material, is out now and can be ordered here.