With Soundgarden up in flames, Chris Cornell took his voice and his songs on a long and winding journey trying to find himself. Along the way he ended up in a variety of collaborative situations that allowed him to show a devoted Soundgarden fanbase sides of himself he didn’t even know existed. The results were mixed, as often happens on these journeys, but enough of Cornell’s shots in the dark hit their mark that we never gave up hope that maybe someday he and the band he fronted could put aside their differences and make brilliant rock ‘n roll once again.

That day has finally arrived, of course, and we can now refer to Cornell’s post-Soundgarden work as, merely, the extended time between Soundgarden albums. Maybe this goes without saying, but we’re glad to see them back together.

(Click here for part 1 of our look at Chris Cornell’s career.)

 

Chris Cornell – Euphoria Morning (1999)

Grez: When Soundgarden broke up, many fans wondered what the individual members would do next. While Matt Cameron going to play for Pearl Jam wasn’t too big of a surprise, I will go out on a limb and say that this first solo album from Chris Cornell was for most fans. When Cornell announced that he would be releasing a solo album, most people assumed that it would be some sort of alternative/hard rock album; this would have been the safe way to go, and probably would have resulted in higher sales. But oh, thank you, Chris, for not doing that. Instead, what was delivered is an incredible collection of heart-wrenchingly beautiful, brutally honest, personal songs (that Chris has, unfortunately, not been able to match since). The vibe throughout is darkly pretty with a constant ominous undertone. This is largely due to the co-writing from Alain Johannes and Natasha Schneider (in case you aren’t familiar, they comprise the band Eleven, and Alain also plays a big role in Them Crooked Vultures and Queens of the Stone Age). They bring a classic formality to many tracks, pushing Cornell in new directions without ever running rough-shod over his natural intuition and style (something that epitomizes the disaster that is his third solo collection, Scream). I’ve always felt that Chris writes his best songs in conjunction with a writing partner, and Euphoria Morning puts a very large exclamation point on that opinion. The production values are simply stunning, and it results in an album that feels extremely cohesive while still delivering a very wide selection of individual song styles, from the lounge tune “When I’m Down” to the dirty swing of “Mission” to the wide dynamics of “Disappearing One.” Cornell’s voice soars throughout, exploring much more than just its height; instead, we hear all of the control and inflection Chris can deliver, with telling emotion and honesty. Every time that I spin Euphoria Morning, I discover some new detail, some new reason to love it. While his two solo follow-ups would be, respectively, more commercial, and then a horridly overproduced train wreck of bad songwriting and unintentional self-parody, we are left with this first bit of brilliance that we can continue to celebrate. It is desert-island-worthy, and marks some of the best songwriting of his career, all musical projects included.

Grade: A

Audioslave – Audioslave (2002)

Cassandra: The year is 2002 and a new supergroup is hitting the airwaves. Mix one part Soundgarden (our front man in subject, Chris Cornell) and three parts Rage Against the Machine and you’ve got a growly, riff heavy, jam band concoction that, in the spirit of rock and roll, is sure to put some hair on your chest. The debut self-titled album put Audioslave on the map and almost made you forget about the break-up of both bands with five killer singles: “Cochise”, “Like a Stone”, “Show Me How to Live”, “I Am the Highway”, and “What You Are”. With massive choruses and roaring riffs, Audioslave is nothing to shake a finger at, because it’ll snap back at you. Seriously, even having just celebrated the tenth anniversary of its release, you can’t go a day without hearing any of those singles on any alt rock radio station. Other tracks, “Gasoline”, “Set It Off”, and “Exploder” combine all three titles and do just that, with Cornell’s grunge perfection vocals and Tom Morello’s golden guitar. But they’re not just a one trick pony; things can get slow and steamy with tracks like “Shadow on the Sun” and “Getaway Car” easing into cooing choruses and swirling instruments. The whole album just flows so well and takes you from one edgy riff and wailing sailing verse to another. Arguably, in my honest opinion, this album is the best Audioslave album of the three. It shows the cohesiveness of the band, and showcased that Cornell could still work with a group after the Soundgarden split and first solo stint.

Grade: A

Audioslave – Out of Exile (2005)

Mike S: Out of Exile is a good idea gone bad. It’s great that Cornell and his new ex-Rage buddies wanted to make a second album. It’s great that he went to rehab and set his life straight and decided to write some songs about it. It’s great that Audioslave was proving it was more permanent than the typical one-off supergroup. Not so great? Songs that evoke the worst parts of ’90s grunge, songs that try for uplifting but come off as dirgelike, songs with lyrics so cheesy you actually want to turn them off. “Heaven’s dead when you get sad,” sings the chorus of “Heaven’s Dead”, and you wonder whose middle school diary that came from. Morello intros “Man or Animal” by aping Tool with some “Prison Sex”-esque low-E scraping, and throws a record scratchy guitar solo into the middle of that same song that is so Tom Morello as to be utterly cliché by this point in his career. The punchiness of the debut disappeared on the follow-up, and the result was an album that sounds more derivative and by-the-numbers than Soundgarden or Rage Against the Machine ever did. Are there a few decent tracks? Sure there are. Second single “Your Time Has Come” is a tremendous way to open an album, and “The Worm” does self-loathing as well as Cornell ever has. Still, tracks like those are buried by the generic sludge; Out of Exile may well be the least essential thing in the entire Cornell catalog.

Grade: C-

Audioslave – Revelations (2006)

Jesse: Revelations is a bittersweet Audioslave album. It’s, in my opinion, the best and most concise Audioslave album. It’s the album fans of Soundgarden and Rage Against the Machine had been waiting for: A perfect melding of the godfathers of grunge and rap/rock in holy unison to form this sound that transcended both genres. Sadly, it’s also Audioslave’s last as tensions exploded shortly after the album was released and saw Cornell go solo once again and the remaining members of Audioslave reform Rage Against the Machine. As a fan of Michael Mann’s Miami Vice (this movie is incredibly overlooked), I was hooked into Revelations way before it was released as both “Wide Awake” and “Shape of Things to Come” were used prominently in the film. In the context of Revelations, however, they’re even more emotionally potent. The whole of Revelations is beautiful. Whether it’s the stomper of the opening title track or Cornell’s raspy sing-a-long chant that leads off single “Original Fire” or the expertly meshed genre bending closer “Moth”, Revelations is a revelation of a band that could’ve been incredible had they continued and hands down, my favorite of the three Audioslave releases. Or maybe it was fitting they ended when they did? “I don’t fly around your fire anymore”. Indeed, Chris Cornell. Indeed.

Grade: A+

Chris Cornell – Carry On (2007)

Mike S: Carry On showed up only a year after Audioslave’s last album, almost as if to assert Chris Cornell’s ability to keep making music. Without a group to latch onto after the dissolution of Audioslave, Carry On functions as a gussied-up demo tape, an audition to be shopped around to whoever might be interested in taking him on. Cornell careens wildly from genre to genre, starting with a hard rock song that lives right in between the worlds of Audioslave and Soundgarden and finishing with a not-half-bad Bond theme. In between, Cornell offers his takes on power pop (“Poison Eye”), R&B (“Safe and Sound”), balladry (“Killing Birds”), and even a touch of country (“Finally Forever”), not to mention a take on Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” that turns it into half beatnik poem and half dirty rock growlfest. Cornell’s voice, even in his mid-40s, is in fine form throughout, but it’s difficult to find any sort of footing in his songwriting. Almost any one of these tracks can work on any given day (apart from maybe the silly bro-code anthem “She’ll Never Be Your Man”), but there is no statement to be made on a macro scale here, no reason to keep listening beyond the one or two songs that likely drew you to the album in the first place. By this point in his career, we had come to expect more of Cornell, and for an album to merely be adequate, to take no place in his discography other than to simply exist was a disappointment. Regrettably, the benefit of time and hindsight hasn’t helped.

Grade: B-

Chris Cornell – Scream (2009)

Jesse: I’m going to admit something here: I casually like Scream. I know, I know. This is blasphemy for a Cornell/Soundgarden fan. But it’s also the popular opinion to just write this one off. Was it a crazy pairing? Sure. Did the whole album work? Absolutely not. In one corner you have have Timbaland branching out into something not hip-hop and in the other you have Cornell who was still reeling from a tumultuous turn of events with Audioslave and a second solo album that was kind of everywhere looking to try something new. Enter Scream. Yes, the faux horns at the beginning of “Part Of Me” and Cornell repeating “That bitch ain’t a part of me” is a little offsetting, but if you gave the album a chance, you’d find some great melodies and some really great pop songs (“Get Up”, “Time”). Christ, if someone other than Chris Cornell was singing or spittin’ verses over “Never Far Away”, I guarantee it would’ve been one of the standout singles of 2009. Or my personal favorite, “Watch Out”, which is just as much unbelievably ludicrous at times as it is utterly infectious. Remember something else kiddies, if Scream didn’t happen, Soundgarden probably wouldn’t be back. You don’t think the backlash from this experiment and the knocks that Cornell’s voice was shot didn’t prompt some serious soul searching? Think about those first few reunion shows and the songs Soundgarden chose: mostly older ones, where Cornell could howl. And for that, we thank you, Timbaland.

Grade: B

Soundgarden – King Animal (2012)

KBOX (excerpted from his review): When Soundgarden announced they were working on their first album in sixteen years I was giddy with anticipation. My inner teenager who grew up with their albums, and who continued to favor them throughout the years, was certainly ready for their latest album in a fantastic discography. The natural questions get asked – will it be as good as their previous work or is the band just reaching for past glory? The answer, for the vast majority of King Animal, is that this is an alternative rock band that should have never stopped making music together…For those who love the lead-off single, “Been Away too Long”, realize this – it’s a concession song. It brings back their familiarity to rock radio, but it’s a by the numbers tune straight down to the title. Everything else on this album is 10x better than that track…The machine that is Soundgarden has been resurrected and is moving again. There’s no end in sight and it’s a fantastic and completely relevant return to form. Welcome back, my friends — you’ve been sorely missed.

Grade: A-

Now, reading 4000 words about Chris Cornell is all well and good, but it’s got nothing on listening to some of his music. Here’s a career-spanning playlist that should satisfy your urge:

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