Remembering Chris Cornell
IN THIS PHOTO: The album cover for the 2018 release, Chris Cornell (Deluxe Edition)/IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify
Will We Hear a Voice Like His Again?
ALTHOUGH the two-year anniversary...
IMAGE CREDIT: @chriscornell
of Chris Cornell’s death is on 18th May, I wanted to react to the tribute concert that has just been held in the U.S. There will be a lot of memories shared about Cornell when the anniversary is marked but it seems strange to think that has been gone almost two years. I casually assume he is still around and preparing to releases music! Just before learning of his death, I was wondering when there would be a new Soundgarden album – the last album from the band, King Animal, came out in 2012. I have been a fan of Soundgarden since the 1990s and remembering falling for their grungy sound and incredible power. I sort of connected with their Badmotorfinger (1991)/Superunknown (1994) period but there is a lot of gold to discover from their first two albums too. I remember Badmotorfinger being released: this was the same year as Nirvana’s Nevermind came out and it was an incredible time for U.S. music – this genre, Grunge, was new to me and I was instantly spellbound. I am a huge fan of Nirvana and feel their power was the result of the trio coming together and turning the volume up. To me, Soundgarden’s primary explosion was from Chris Cornell. I grew up listening to a lot Rock bands and Pop artists but nothing as primal and animalistic had arrived into my ears.
I do admire all Soundgarden albums but Superunknown is the standout to me. Badmotorfinger has classics like Rusty Cage and Jesus Christ Pose but Superunknown’s standout, Black Hole Sun, was this strange and dark song that, to an eleven-year-old, was like nothing else! I recall watching the song’s video for the first time on a family holiday and my eyes and mind were blown! Later in life, the album rose to become one of my favourites and, although a lot of the songs deal with depression, anxiety and dark themes, the band are incredible throughout and the central force, Chris Cornell, shines as a lyricist and performer. Maybe Superunknown is not as raw and rough as Badmotorfinger and their earliest work but there are plenty of iconic moments! The record is a seventeen-track, seventy-minute work that, in lesser hands, would be sloppy and pretentious. It is a masterpiece to me because of the endless power and gravitas of Chris Cornell. If he is talking about personal pain or striking out, he is utterly compelling and brings you in – never too heavy or depressing to spark the imagination and get into the heart. In a classic year for music (1994), it would be forgivable for critics to be distracted and overlook Superunknown. Pitchfork reviewed Superunknown’s reissue edition, some twenty years after its release – and they made some interesting observations regarding some of the new recordings and unheard tracks:
“You also get a glimpse of the band’s future course with a beautifully spare acoustic treatment of “Like Suicide” that points the way to 1996’s more temperate Down on the Upside, the album that effectively triggered Soundgarden’s subsequent 13-year break-up...
But then the go-for-broke, peak-conquering triumphalism of Superunknown was itself a harbinger that the writing was on the wall for this band at the time. When Cornell sings, “Alive in the superunknown” on the album’s acid-swirled title track, it’s both a valorous testament to Soundgarden’s last-gang-in-town fortitude and a telling prophecy of the uncertainty to come, with grunge’s early ’90s stranglehold on alt-rock radio soon to be loosened by the emergence of pop-punk, Britpop, electronica, and nu-metal. But amid a musical landscape now splintered into infinite subgenres, Superunknown remains the very definition of no-qualifiers-required rock—a tombstone for a once-dominant aesthetic, perhaps, but also a solid, immovable mass that endures no matter how dramatically its surroundings have changed”.
Soundgarden would produce two more albums – 1996’s Down on the Upside – but their place in music history was already confirmed. A lot of band leaders often focus on the one project and do not have the time and talent to work in other configurations. Whilst Audioslave and Temple of the Dog did not reach the same popularity of Soundgarden, they were augmented and defined by the epic voice of Chris Cornell. Audioslave released three albums and, whilst they gained mix reviews throughout, Tom Morello, Tim Commerford; Brad Wilk and Chris Cornell reached a new audience – when you have a supergroup that included members of Rage Against the Machine it is unlikely to fail!
Temple of the Dog released only one album – their 1991 eponymous album marked a busy year for Cornell! – but it is stronger and more focused than Audioslave’s efforts. It might be the year it arrived, 1991, but I think the songwriting is stronger and, crucially, the material is better suited to Cornell’s voice. Songs like Say Hello 2 Heaven and Hunger Strike are classics and sort of introduce the sadness and sound that would define Seattle music in the 1990s – showing there was huge depth and sensitivity to be found among the force and shadows. I have whipped through the back catalogue of Chris Cornell and I will end with his solo material. I wanted to talk about his music and life before the two-year anniversary of his death because of the tribute concert that has just been held. Consequence of Sound provided details of the concert that happened last week:
“Members of Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog, and Audioslave, as well as Foo Fighters, Metallica, Josh Homme, Fiona Apple, and Brandi Carlile were all on hand to pay tribute to Chris Cornell as part of an all-star tribute concert held in Los Angeles on Wednesday night. Organized by Cornell’s wife, Vicky, “I Am the Highway: A Tribute to Chris Cornell” featured 42 distinct performances and a multitude of surprises guests, making for an unforgettable evening spanning nearly five hours in length.
The concert began with the Melvins, who performed a six-song set that ended with a cover of Soundgarden’s “Spoonman”...
A little later, Foo Fighters took the stage to cover Soundgarden’s “No Attention”, along with Devo’s “Girl U Want” and Cheech and Chong’s “Earache My Eye”. Dave Grohl then stuck around to perform a solo rendition of Foo Fighters’ signature song, “Everlong.”
The members of Audioslave, minus bassist Tim Commerford, played five songs with five different singers: “Cochise” (with Jane’s Addiction’s Perry Farrell); “Be Yourself” (with Juliette Lewis); “Set It Off” (with Rise Against’s Tim McIlrath); “Like a Stone” (with Brandi Carlile); and “Show Me How to Live” (with Dave Grohl). Black Sabbath’s Geezer Butler and Metallica’s Robert Trujillo were among the bassists who filled in for Commerford.
Metallica rocked four songs, including covers of Soundgarden’s “All Your Lies” and “Head Injury” plus their own “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “Master of Puppets”. Their set was preceded by Jack Black and James Hetfield performing a brief but playful impromptu rendition of “One”.
Ryan Adams sang two songs, Soundgarden’s “Fell on Black Days” and Cornell’s “Dead Wishes”, while a number of artists performed one song each throughout the night: Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme (“Rusty Cage”); Miley Cyrus (“As Hope and Promise Fade”); Rita Wilson (“The Promise”); Alain Johannes (“Disappearing One”); Chris Stapleton (“The Keeper”); and Adam Levine (“Seasons”), who was accompanied by Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard.
Cornell’s 14-year-old daughter, Toni, provided one of the night’s tearjerking moments when she sang Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” with assistance from Ziggy Marley...
IN THIS PHOTO: I Am The Highway: A Tribute to Chris Cornell tribute show at The Forum in Los Angeles/PHOTO CREDIT: @soundgarden/Getty Images
To close out the night, Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil, Ben Shepherd, and Matt Cameronshared the stage together for the first time since Cornell’s passing. Taylor Momsen sang lead on three songs, including “Rusty Cage”, “Drawing Flies”, and “Loud Love”. Foo Fighters’ Taylor Hawkins fronted the band for “I Awake” and “The Day I Tried to Live” alongside Melvins’ Buzz Osbourne. For the final performance of the evening, Soundgarden performed “Black Hole Sun” with Brandie Carlile and Peter Frampton.
Jimmy Kimmel served as the master of ceremonies, and many of Cornell’s friends appeared on stage over the course of the evening, including Brad Pitt and Josh Brolin.
Faith No More’s Mike Patton had been added to the bill last week, but unfortunately had to bow out as he was still under the weather after canceling his national anthem performance at an NFL playoff game over the weekend”.
It seems like a random and strange collection of musicians to perform Cornell’s material but the performances are exceptional and touching. One of the highlights was Miley Cyrus singing Chris Cornell’s track, Two Drink Minimum, and Temple of the Dog’s Say Hello 2 Heaven. She puts so much emotion into the song and the fact she is a mainstream, young Pop artist shows how far Cornell’s messages and beauty spread. Iconic figures such as Dave Grohl were there but it was good to see newer artists paying tribute and proving what a cross-generational appeal the late Soundgarden lead had.
It was a justifiably emotional and wonderful way to honour the memory of Cornell and it made me wonder whether we will ever see anyone like him. I recall learning about his death a couple of years back and being stunned. I was at work and actually made a lame excuse so I could get a half-day and go home. When there, I took to the laptop and frantically shared my memories of Cornell. I was stunned to learn he has committed suicide but, rather than drag that up and wonder what was I his mind before he hanged himself, it is best to remember his music. I guess his death opened a lot of eyes: people not aware he was so depressed and wondering whether his anti-anxiety medication contributed somehow. It was a dark day but I have listened a lot to Chris Cornell’s solo work since 2016 – I was mainly hooked on Soundgarden and Audioslave. Cornell released five solo albums and, aside from the terrible Scream (2009), he gained a lot of admiration from critics – impressed he had so many guises and could set out solo. 1999’s Euphoria Morning was a promising debut and it was reviewed retrospectively by AllMusic:
“It's a mature album without being overly somber. It could be argued that it sounds a little too mature and possibly a little self-conscious, but that just emphasizes the real craft behind Euphoria Morning. Cornell knew exactly where he wanted to go as a solo artist, and he's achieved it. If it doesn't satisfy some dyed-in-the-wool Soundgarden fans, that's too bad, since it will undoubtedly win the affections of open-minded listeners who haven't before considered him a serious songwriter or musician”.
IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify
2007’s Carry On features the excellent No Such Thing but Scream was a bit of a detour. It tried to mix Electronica and Pop into Cornell’s repertoire and, from the cover of him destroying his guitar to the substandard material, I would advise people avoid the album. 2011’s Songbook is a live album and a truly exceptional demonstration of Cornell’s toned down. You still get the grit and growl from him but, in an acoustic setting, one can hear more sensitivity and range. The record features songs performed during his Songbook Tour and the idea of having this raw animal of a singer embarking on an acoustic solo tour was intriguing – it gained huge reviews and demonstrated what a vast and eclectic talent Cornell was. 2015’s Higher Truth was the final album the world got from Chris Cornell. It is sad to think what would have come next in terms of Soundgarden and solo albums. There is a mellowness and intimacy to the album and ended a phase of his career where he was projecting this more tender, softer and acoustic artist. I love the Soundgarden, Audioslave and Temple of the Dog albums but it was fascinating hearing Cornell in a more intimate and different setting. The album split the critics but I really love it. I think Cornell’s voice is more rounded and nuanced on this album and it hints at a potentially exceptional new direction – one that was sadly cut short only two years later.
Any excuse to play Chris Cornell’s incredible back catalogue is great but it is slightly bittersweet now. I am sad to realise he is gone but I have fond memories of discovering Soundgarden and following this rare and wonderful human. In interviews, Cornell was compassionate, funny and friendly and was always a bit of a dream. He would talk about depression and his past but he was always looking forward and excited regarding the next steps. It was his optimism and tireless work ethic that made him a rare artist. At a time when a lot of legends were slowing down and releasing few albums; Cornell was keeping busy and touring as much as possible. If he were alive today then you know he would have been out there around the world and preparing for a new album. I think Cornell’s is one of those musicians that comes along once in a lifetime. In terms of his voice, literally and lyrically, he is a unique force. The power of his voice is titanic but there are a range of emotions working away in every song. He was never this aimless singer who screamed as loud as he could. Cornell was a much more intelligent, skilled and memorable voice and one, I feel, we will never see equalled! His lyrics were personal and frank but he always seemed to be speaking to people and not pushing them away.
You get the sense Cornell was hiding through his lyrics. He wanted to share them with the world and make connections with others. Even when he was at his most angered and charged, you sort of felt bonded to the song. It is hard to explain but he had this special gift. I hope lots of musicians and fans come together on 18th May and share their Chris Cornell memories. He was this wonderful artists who, even though he is not with us, will continue to inspire and influence generations. I can hear elements of Cornell in new Rock/Alternative bands but there is nobody who can reach the same sort of fever and electricity as the Seattle-born legend. If you are a new discoverer of Cornell then I suggest you start with the early Soundgarden albums and work your way out to his Audioslave work – ending with his solo material. I wanted to end with an interview snippet and found this one from The Guardian in 2009. Cornell was talking about his album, Scream, and his musical background:
“The Soundgarden song Rusty Cage addressed Cornell’s refusal to be imprisoned by convention; some things haven’t changed. Although grunge is showing signs of coming back, one of its prime movers is unlikely to reform. “When you start your first band and it has an impact on the rest of the world you go through a lot with those guys and you become very protective of that legacy,” he says of Soundgarden. “For us to do anything else would risk tarnishing that legacy, which is partly why we stopped. As a performer, I’m able to do what I want, and what I’m doing now feels good”.
Cornell was never about convention and was keen not to tarnish the legacy of bands like Soundgarden. Even though Soundgarden would release King Animal in 2012, it is clear Cornell loved music and was keen to keep it as pure and strong as possible. There are one or two so-so albums in his cannon but when he was at his very best – the glory days of Soundgarden, for instance – he was simply unstoppable. It has been almost two years since his death and there is no way the brilliance of his work will ever rust and lose its genius. Artists will come and go but, no matter how many arrive, it is clear there will be never be...
PHOTO CREDIT: Casey Curry/Invision/AP
ANOTHER gem like Chris Cornell.