Album Review: Chris Cornell

Written by Album reviews, Music

For those that have listened to any of Chris Cornell’s work, it is always his voice that lands that initial blow. Though often heard as part of the grungy ensemble of Soundgarden, there was a wounded tenderness to his vocal performance that spanned a punchy, intense catalogue. Now, in the new collection released over a year after the death of the Seattle native, this vocal quality is brought to the forefront over three discs that encapsulate his studio career chronologically and a fourth disc to showcase live performances.

Following several deaths of big names in music, it was Cornell that died underappreciated – his voice stands out, yes, but it was his ability to mould himself into numerous genres over his career that made him such a compelling artist, whether as a solo act or in part of a group, and as a figure in the music industry. This is what makes this box set so vivid, exciting and poignant.

Spanning across the early, post-punk era of Soundgarden into the alt-rock tribute of Temple of the Dog, then back into Soundgarden before branching off into a solo career and the supergroup days of Audioslave, the collection is extensive. Highlights include the grunge classic ‘Black Hole Sun’ as well as ‘Hunger Strike’, the Temple of the Dog track that introduced Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder to audiences. When it comes to solo work, there are two live acoustic covers that stand out – Prince’s ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ strips back the track to further expose the emotionally resonant core, while an adaptation of U2’s ‘One’ that instead uses the lyrics from the Metallica song of the same name tells the harrowing story of a soldier coming back from war. These tracks show Cornell’s strengths as a performer and collaborator, and are both masterclasses in genre tailoring.

However, there are some tracks that are clearly absent – Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil told Rolling Stone that the nature of Chris Cornell’s death was a significant factor in avoiding songs with “lyrics, or titles that may not be appropriate in this context; that might be difficult for friends, family.” As a result, songs like ‘The Day I Tried to Live’ and ‘Like Suicide’ were left out of the discussion entirely.

It was his ability to mould himself into numerous genres over his career that made him such a compelling artist, whether as a solo act or in part of a group, and as a figure in the music industry

It was inevitable that a collection such as this would arrive sooner or later. Cornell never seemed to stop creating new music and experimenting with new styles, meaning that there’s plenty of unreleased material waiting to see the light of day. ‘When Bad Does Good’ is the previously unreleased studio track that is delivered through the collection. Recorded, mixed and edited by Cornell before his death, the track explores living life with mental illness. Much like ‘The Promise’, the final track released while he was alive, it provides a fittingly hopeful look towards life. Thayil stressed that despite the darker content of a lot of Chris’ work, he wasn’t a “brooding loner” as some might have thought. “He was like a normal kid. Very funny and very fucking goofy.”

Many of the tributes following his death have been presented under one banner: Chris Cornell is the voice of a generation, and an artist for all time. This collection, and the sublime music that it contains, pays justice to that rich legacy.

Last modified: 23rd October 2019

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