The Classic Rock Opinion: Chris Cornell
After today’s confirmation that Chris Cornell will play this year’s Download festival and the recent release of his hip-hop tinged album Scream, Siân Llewellyn weighs in with her opinion on where the former Soundgarden man has gone horribly, horribly wrong. Get your Download tickets!
This blog is Trent Reznor’s fault. He made a comment on Twitter that got me thinking. It’s something that’s been troubling me for a couple of weeks – not in a lying awake at night, unable to sleep kinda way, but nagging nonetheless.
I think I’ll call it ‘The Chris Cornell Conundrum’. The thing is, former Soundgarden/Audioslave singer has a new record out called Scream. And in case you didn’t know it’s produced and co-written with noted pop/hip-hop producer Timbaland – a man more used to working with the likes of Madonna, Justin Timberlake or Jay-Z than the guy who has written and sung on some bona fide modern rock classics.
Now, I’m a long-time admirer of Mr Cornell and his mighty larynx, from early Soundgarden through Audioslave and his solo ventures to date (although Carry On was a bit disappointing), but nothing quite prepared me for the shock of Scream.
Here’s what Trent Reznor twittered: “You know that feeling you get when somebody embarrasses themselves so badly YOU feel uncomfortable? Heard Chris Cornell’s record? Jesus.”
Reluctantly, I’ve gotta agree. And before anyone goes levelling accusations that I dislike hip-hop, dance or even pop music, the contents of my iPod would prove differently. So, that’s not the problem. The problem is that it’s Chris ‘Soundgarden, for Christ’s sake’ Cornell who’s gone and done this.
I’m all for artistic diversity, but really, Chris, this is a step too far. By all means hand off your new record to a production genius to be remixed for the dancefloor (which, apparently, is how this collaboration first occurred as Timbaland was approached to remix Carry On), but make sure you record it properly first – you know, with a proper rock band an’ that.
Scream is a 50-minute soundscape collage full of loops, beats, synths and often vocoded, processed vocals – that’s not something you expect or need from Cornell. His voice is too idiosyncratic, too *good*, dammit, to need the studio wizardry that’s suffocating him on Scream.
The real kick in the teeth, however, is that there are tantalizing flashes of what could have been littered all over the place. There are some great melodies – the chorus of the title track for example, the vitriol of Part Of Me or even the subdued melancholia of Take Me Alive could be all be turned into stunning rock anthems if given half a chance. Instead, they’re drowned in production quirks and sound startlingly samey.
Time – with its eerily chiming intro guitar riff – starts promisingly, but soon descends into Cornell flailing all over a synth riff that sounds like a second-hand version of 2 Unlimited’s dance floor smash No Limits. And then there’s the intermittent rapping. Seriously, Chris Cornell raps. Sorta – which, on the white boy rap scale, is far closer to Vanilla Ice than Eminem.
Simply put, Cornell has a rock voice. Not a hip-hop one, he’s not a soundbyte to be sampled and pasted all over a blippy backbeat. You’re a rocker, Chris, it’s what you’re good at. Suck it up and deal with it. By all means do this in your spare time, but don’t inflict it upon us.
Cornell responded glibly to Reznor (again, via Twitter) “What do you think Jesus would twitter? ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone’ or ‘Has anyone seen Judas? He was here a minute ago’”.
Well, I’m sorry Chris, but at least Nine Inch Nails generally release remixes of songs after having recorded them properly, not *instead* of doing so.
But hey, here’s what’s weird, I’ve been listening to the album again while writing this and here’s the conclusion I’ve come to about ‘The Chris Cornell Conundrum’. I don’t actually *hate* Scream, I just hate the fact that it’s the new Chris Cornell album. If it was the new Gnarls Barclay (and frankly, it may as well be), I probably wouldn’t mind at all…
Download will take place on June 12th – 14th at Donington and will feature sets from Faith No More, Slipknot, Def Leppard, Whitesnake, The Prodigy, Limp Bizkit, Motley Crue, Marilyn Manson, Korn, ZZ Top and many, many more.
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