Music Review: Chris Cornell's Scream

by Hayden Alfano*
Special to iVoryTowerz

Chris Cornell’s long-delayed and much-anticipated collaboration with producer Timbaland** drops in the United States today (March 10). While the album will certainly win Cornell new fans, long-time devotees of the former Soundgarden and Audioslave frontman will be tempted, upon listening to Scream, to do exactly that.

The album is not without virtue. Cornell was amenable to working with Timbaland for a reason, and the producer delivers with a number of catchy beats. And Cornell’s famously rangy voice, mellowed by years of use, meshes well over the drum machines that dominate the music.

Yes, the sound on Scream is fine, if not what Cornell fans are used to. That departure from the status quo is the inevitable result of the marriage between hard rock and hip-hop. Cornell’s followers, this reviewer among them, were prepared for an album entirely devoid of both the hard-driving guitars that characterized the singer’s work with Soundgarden and Audioslave and the softer stylings of his two previous solo releases.

Where this album disappoints is the lyrics. Cornell’s catalogue, up to this point, is truly poetry put to music. (Those looking for his best lyricism would do well to start with 1999’s Euphoria Morning, his first solo venture). His way with words, in this reviewer’s opinion, is what separates him from other grunge frontmen.

Most of the songs on this release, however, are heavy on the chorus and lack lyrical depth. That doesn’t make them any different than a great number of pop songs, of course, but that’s precisely the point.

What’s particularly frustrating about Scream is that there are a few points at which the product is unmistakably Cornell’s, proof that he still has it in him. On “Enemy,” he returns to familiar themes of self-contemplation and dissatisfaction: “Taking the time to untangle the wires/And staring to my sanity/Dropping the hammer and pulling the trigger/I know now the bullet is me.” And the hidden track, “Two Drink Minimum,” is the kind of soulful, bluesy song that should be a staple of any Cornell solo album moving forward.

Scream is a perfectly fine album. But Cornell’s music has always been extraordinary, and this record is extraordinary only in the most literal sense as it applies to the artist: something completely different than anything he’s ever done. Hopefully, it was just an experiment.

*Hayden Alfano is the author of Rhymes With Hondo, a blog about the Boston Celtics, and 19'9", a college basketball blog. For most of 2008, Hayden was among the regular writers here on the iVoryTowerz blog. Due to other commitments Hayden left the blog last month but without filing a farewell piece. His last regular piece was "Book Review: Alphabet Juice." So this notice is our overdue thanks for his efforts. We wish him well in his future endeavors.

**Timbaland is the stage name for rapper and record producer Timothy Zachery Mosley.

(The photo of Chris Cornell in concert in 2008 is from the Universal Music Group. Cornell begins his world tour in Santiago, Chile on March 25. To see the video of the title track from Cornell's latest solo release, please check below.)

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