Released on September 18, 2015, Higher Truth ended up becoming Chris Cornell’s final full-length artistic statement before his tragic and unexpected death, on May 18, 2017. However, like the rest of his work with Soundgarden, Audioslave and as a bona fide solo star, the album is suffused with soul, beauty, and splendor, and it remains a life-affirming gem.
Widely regarded as Cornell’s most intimate and candid record, Higher Truth’s origins are traceable to a series of LA-only solo shows the singer performed across 2009-2010, which proved so popular that they led to a sold-out US tour in the spring of 2011. The much-acclaimed live album Songbook was sourced from these shows, during which Cornell performed stripped-back versions of key tracks from the Soundgarden and Audioslave catalogs in addition to a clutch of impassioned covers including Led Zeppelin’s ‘Thank You’ and John Lennon’s “Imagine.”
Cornell had been gratified by the response to Songbook, and while much of 2012 was taken up by recording and touring Soundgarden’s critically-acclaimed reunion album, King Animal, he felt the next logical step in his solo career would be to make a studio record infused with the spirit and intimacy of his acoustic shows.
“I wanted to write new material that specifically was prepared for that [acoustic format], almost out of respect for it,” Cornell told Flipside in 2015. “Like this deserves to have its own record, its own voice. And that’s what Higher Truth became.”
Cornell hooked up with Pearl Jam/Bruce Springsteen producer Brendan O’Brien to realize his concept. However, while both understood that Cornell wanted to make an intimate, roots-based record, they also agreed that they didn’t wish to be restricted simply to guitar and voice.
“He [O’Brien] said that he loved the demos, but he was also scared of the idea of it just being singing and one acoustic guitar,” Cornell revealed in 2015. “[He said that] if I was open to adding different textures and different things here and there, then we can make a great record.”
Ultimately, Cornell and O’Brien laid down most of the guitars, bass, and keyboards during the sessions, with the duo mostly employing drum loops and discreetly layering additional textures to add further color. Accordingly, Higher Truth achieved the balance of power and intimacy Cornell had been seeking all along.
Driven by an insistent mandolin riff and embellished by loops, backwards-tape trickery, and a psych-fueled guitar solo, the memorable opening track, “Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart,” set the tone, with further standouts such as “Through The Window,” “Worried Moon” and the glorious, Led Zeppelin III-esque “Dead Wishes” adroitly fusing quirky bucolic folk and steely alt-rock dynamics.
Elsewhere, more subtle sonic embroidery was stitched into ballads such as “Josephine” and “Let Your Eyes Wander,” where strings subtly augmented show-stopping Cornell vocals. Higher Truth’s elegant, titular song, however, was a little more elaborate, with an anthemic, ‘Hey Jude’-style singalong finally leading into a drum-heavy pile-up in the fade, and the Revolver-esque “Our Time In The Universe” providing a no-holds-barred finale laced with psychedelic guitar filigree and potent Eastern promise.
A mature and eminently satisfying collection of songs that merits widespread reappraisal, Higher Truth remains a high-water mark in Chris Cornell’s singular career. On release, the album followed his three previous solo outings into the Top 20 of the Billboard 200 and it was also cited as a significant artistic coup by most of the major music publications, with Rolling Stone waxing lyrical over the record’s “arena-sized porch reveries” and The Independent nailing it when they proclaimed Higher Truth to be simply “one of the richest, most beautiful collections of songs in his oeuvre”.
Higher Truth can be bought here.