It's rare that a member of a major group is able to reach the top again but that's just what Chris Cornell did. A Seattle native, born Christopher John Boyle (he and his siblings took their mother's maiden name when their parents divorced), started as a drummer (just like Kurt Cobain) before vaulting to the forefront. He was the vocalist for Soundgarden, one of the Grunge-era's major groups, from '84 to '97. He also found time, in the early '90s, for the Temple Of The Dog project (a tribute to one-time roommate/vocalist Andrew Wood - Mother Love Bone - who had died of a heroin overdose) with a couple members of Pearl Jam.
Following Soundgarden's demise, Cornell released the solo album, "Euphoria Morning." Though the single "Can't Change Me" earned a Grammy nomination for "Best Male Rock Vocal Performance," the album was a commercial failure. It looked as though the next time anyone would hear from Cornell would be when Soundgarden decided to do a reunion tour or record a "comeback" album. As it turned out, Cornell's next shot was just around the corner. Zack de la Rocha had left the politically charged Rage Against The Machine. So the remaining members, Tom Morello (guitar), Tim Commerford (bass) and Brad Wilk (drums) went looking for a new vocalist. At the suggestion of producer Rick Rubin they hooked up with Cornell. Three successful albums ("Audioslave," "Out Of Exile" and "Revelations") resulted.
In '06, Cornell began work on his second solo album, which eventually became "Carry On." Meanwhile, Morello, Commerford and Wilk decided to do a Rage reunion tour with de la Rocha. That obviously didn't sit well with Cornell.
Then came the announcement (February, '07) that Cornell had left Audioslave, effectively ending the supergroup. The Rage Against The Machine revival was listed among the reasons. "Due to irresolvable personality conflicts as well as musical differences, I am permanently leaving the band," said Cornell. "I wish the other three members nothing but the best." Four months later, "Carry On" was released.
To support "Carry On," Cornell also issued a 17 song set "The Roads We Choose - A Retrospective" which, has the name implied, contained songs from Soundgarden, Temple Of The Dog, Audioslave and Cornell's solo stuff. There was also a much downloaded acoustic performance ("Chris Cornell: Unplugged In Sweden").
'07 touring included opening for Aerosmith and participating in Linkin Park's - Projekt Revolution Tour. Cornell was backed by Yogi Lonich and Peter Thorn (guitars), Corey McCormick (bass) and Jason Sutter (drums). Of this line-up Cornell said they were "musicians that could get the whole picture" capturing the essence of Cornell's career from Soundgarden to solo.
"Carry On" contained a cover of Michael Jackson's pop classic "Billie Jean" which took on a quirky life of its own. Cornell wound up being peripherally involved with the American Idol singing competition when contestant David Cook covered "Billie Jean" but used Cornell's arrangement. "I came up with this arrangement and reinvented the song," maintained Cornell. "You can clearly see that the judges are giving this guy credit for it on national television." Despite host Ryan Seacrest introducing the tune as Cornell's version, the judges still praised Cook for his originality. Maybe Cornell just wanted someone to say "he was the one."
Cornell's third solo album "Scream" was co-produced with the in-demand Timbaland. The singer-Rapper was seen by some as an odd choice.
There was another piece of news. Cornell's motorcycle was rear-ended by a truck in Studio City (L.A.). He was hurled through the air and suffered extensive cuts and bruises. Fortunately, Cornell was able to walk away from the accident and reportedly even returned to the studio later that day.
With "Scream" completed Cornell was quoted saying it was "a highlight of my career." Not to be outdone, Timbaland echoed the sentiment adding that the album was "the best work I've done in my career."
"Scream" landed in March, '09. The set contained "Long Gone," "Watch Out" and "Ground Zero." The latter song was featured the series premiere of ABC's Life On Mars. So he earned his TV credit after all.
Let's skip "Euphoria Morning." It was a long time ago and all the hardcore Cornell/Soundgarden fans already own it. Nobody else really needs it. "Carry On" is a much better effort but still, it's evident that Cornell works better in a group than on his own hook.
"Carry On" is a surprisingly low-key, easy-going effort filled with acoustic guitars and backing vocals. There's even a down-tempo take on Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean." Jackson songs are tough to rework - for obvious reasons. Taking a different approach is wise. Still, as far as covers go this doesn't come close to Alien Ant Farm's version of "Smooth Criminal."
Back on familiar turf, Cornell does best with "Arms Around Your Love" and "No Such Thing," when the guitars are plugged in and the energy is on the rise. There's also the theme song, "You Know My Name," from the popular '06 James Bond flick, Casino Royale.
Based on "Scream's" cover photo Cornell could be guilty of false advertising. He is shown in mid-air, holding a guitar by its neck with the body over his shoulder like he is about to drive it into the floor. Smashing a guitar goes back to the '60s and Cornell's pose is reminiscent of The Clash. The implication is that "Scream" is a kick-ass Rock album. It's not. Rather, "Scream" is closer to R&B/pop. Why he chose to go down that road remains a very valid question. Grunge-era vocalists just aren't natural pop singers. Of course, listening to Cornell's take on R&B flavored-tracks is far preferable to hearing Justin Timberlake (who appears on the album) - even if that's Timberlake's element and a stretch for Cornell.
When he's not fighting the arrangements Cornell manages a Steve Winwood turn ("Time") and an Al Green croon ("Ground Zero"). The energetic pop songs - "Long Gone," "Other Side Of Town," Climbing The Walls" and "Watch Out" - in addition to "Time" and "Ground Zero," are the drawing cards. Had these tracks been the starting point "Scream" would be far better.
"Take Me Alive" has a mid-eastern drone and Cornell unfortunately matches it singing about being "the bigger man." Another misstep is the noise infused opener "Part Of Me" that fails to find focus while "Enemy" wants to be "7 Nation Army" (White Stripes) but doesn't have the ammo.
No performer likes being pigeon-holed but for a guy who fronted the legendary Soundgarden and the not-so-legendary Audioslave, "Scream" is an odd turn. You have to give Cornell credit for taking a chance, but there are limits. Nine Inch Nails' frontman Trent Reznor apparently thought Cornell had crossed the line. "You know that feeling you get when somebody embarrasses themselves so badly you feel uncomfortable?," wrote Reznor on his Twitter page.