Heralding from the delta scored shores of Seattle, Washington State, Cornell earned his rock wings as the gravelly voiced front-man of popular grunge band Soundgarden. After several years in the doldrums, the band shot to fame during the early 90’s, riding the crest of a wave triggered by Nirvana and the emergence of the grunge movement. Success, however, did nothing to temper the bands exploration of dark and brooding subject matter. Hits like Black Hole Sun and Fell on Black Days explored themes of substance abuse, death and existentialism, and were typical of the bands output at the time. This reflected their troubled and self-destructive nature, applying particularly to Cornell who, as a teen, was prone to bouts of depression and latterly, alcoholism.The band eventually called it quits in 1997, despite continuing ascendancy, attributed largely to conflict within the band.
After the split, Cornell kept himself busy writing his first solo album Euphoria Morning which received critical acclaim but proved a commercial failure. Shortly after, he teamed up with Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machine, forming supergroup Audioslave. Recording their first album, the band almost came unstuck as Cornell descended into a bout of alcoholism that nearly ended him. However, back from the brink, he cleaned himself up and there followed a very productive period in Cornell’s career. With a sound more reminiscent of Soundgarden than Rage…, the group mixed hard rock ballads with cooler, low tempo tracks and proved a popular draw over the course of three big selling albums. The band also toured heavily, playing many notable venues, including a history making first in Cuba (where the gig was free, naturally). In 2006 Cornell began work on his second solo project, Carry On. Suggesting to many that his days with Audioslave were numbered, sure enough, he announced his split from the band in February of this year.
Now in his 40’s, sober and free from any group commitments, the Cornell-of-new turns out to be, well, the Cornell-of-old. Indeed, his new tracks blend so seamlessly with his earlier work that one can have trouble differentiating between ‘Cornell’ eras when heard blind. Soundgarden blends into Audioslave blends into Cornell solo. Whilst the music itself feels a little more light weight than his earlier work (smoother guitar riffs, less prominent drums and higher production values), the lyrics are reassuringly angsty. No Such Thing deals, in a roundabout way, with suicide. The fluffily titled Arms Around Your Love whose tune no doubt intentionally plays reminiscent of a Michael Bolton track (worryingly so, in fact), fortunately subverts with themes of loss and jealousy and proves an interesting distraction, if a little middle-of-the-road.
Also included is the recently released You Know My Name, the theme tune to last years Bond re-imagining Casino Royale. Cornell, no stranger to supplying tracks for films, was an astute choice for crooning duties on this movie, and he and David Arnold have crafted a real toe-tapper. Given its fullest expression and backed with sweeping orchestral flourishes, Cornell’s voice still has the power to impress. And extra points should be attributed to the man for securing the ill-chosen Madonna to dankest corners of Bond history.
Of course, how much you like Cornell’s latest work will depend very much on how receptive you are to having some mildly engorged disappointment at the world delivered to you in quite a derivative rock-like fashion. So if all this talk of Soundgarden and Audioslave makes you yearn for some contemporary rock with an early-Nineties, post-Nirvana feel to it, then Cornell’s new album could be just what you’re looking for. On the other hand, the phrase “Run away” may spring to mind.
Carry On (2007)
Genre: Alternative Rock
Record Label: Suretone