Most Chris Cornell fans have been anticipating Scream, his third solo effort and much-hyped collaboration with Timbaland, with a fluctuating mix of trepidation and pessimistic confusion. We’ve been hoping for some semblance of redemption from the man who broke up Soundgarden and Audioslave, and topped it all off with the wall-to-wall disappointment that was Carry On, his sophomore solo record. While Euphoria Morning was a beautiful, fragile work of art, Carry On was a low-ball jerk around that we were all hoping he’d gotten out of his system while on a half-year bender. As selfish, demanding fans go, we’ve been longing for that classic signature wail from the man that was once the God of Seattle- we wanted something with meat, a new flash of the flame that drew us all like moths in the first place.
Therein lies the reason why this album will draw more fire than Kanye’s sad robot songs ever did; you can’t listen to Scream with any hunger for familiarity. If you’ve heard anything by either of Cornell’s former bands in the past few weeks, it’s going to take some powerful weed to get your head out of the preconceptions that the man has to be a rock singer. Timbaland doesn’t do rock.
Don’t get me wrong- you’ll recognize the pipes here, but that familiar old engine sounds like another beast altogether inside a frame that’s been pimped, tricked and rimmed. To pop that hood and look at it through any sort of rock purist lens would inevitably lead to an immediate determination that the album is a showcase of such horrific, malignant blasphemy as to render it utterly unlistenable, except in such cases where it’s necessary to present a shining example of Where It All Went Wrong.
Royally obnoxious horns open the album, like those old Imperial margarine commercials– a terrible sign right off the bat, made so much worse by a demonic voice welcoming us to “Chris Cornell… the movie… the experience.” This begins Part Of Me, the video for which you may have seen already:
For all the promises Cornell made of this being the next Dark Side Of The Moon, the intro/outro segues that tie the songs together are the only threads of validity to his claims. But that’s a bit like saying To The Extreme was the next Thriller. It’s blasphemously absurd, and this first track (not to mention the video) is, quite honestly, all one needs to assess where this album is coming from. Furthermore, most of the segue strike the ear as oddly out of place, and do nothing to compliment the piece.
Time makes a pass at cheap Casio sounds and a cascading bridge to add dramatic flare, but the cringe-worthiness really hits a fresh low in the outro as we’re bombarded with repeating eighth-note points of Smokin on a cigarette / my six-pack right beside me several times over, in a southern drawl no less, not thirty seconds before Autotune makes its album debut.
The coked out soul glow of Sweet Revenge is probably Justin Timberlake’s favorite song right about now, despite the fact that he actually lent a hand to Take Me Alive. There’s enough Autotune robotics to make T-Pain feel at home, and whatever the hell Cornell’s ranting about in barky spitfire rhythm is sprinkled with Timberlake-esque vocal harmonics. I keep coming back to the same thought: it’s all just too corny at the core to take very seriously.
I would’ve been at least a little excited about Take Me Alive in any other context- the Middle Eastern rhythms, the strings, the gliding chorus, it all fits together nicely- so I can’t cast a different color simply because it’s a part of this shimmering freak show. Or can I? Skwerl posed the question of whether or not I would react the same if it were labeled and sold as a Timbaland album with Cornell guesting, as opposed to the third Chris Cornell solo album, and I paused on that for a minute. I suppose to some extent I would see it with different eyes, sure, but the fact remains that there is virtually no trace of genuine rock to be found here. It’s a Timbaland album, and it should’ve been promoted as such.
Tim’s good at what he does. He’s a hitmaker, and there are some great arrangements here that would work wonders with another artist. There are pieces throughout that gleam with hook potential and dance-worthiness- but how many club mixes are we going to hear of Enemy? Without Cornell, Scream would’ve made a perfectly digestible Britney Spears or Madonna record- because we’re used to that elaborately orchestrated, beat-focused, high-octane emptiness from those names. But this is one album you won’t be needing on vinyl- unless you’re a DJ.
Even without contextualizing the album, however, it bears noting that there’s been a thread of poetic integrity to Cornell’s lyrics throughout the years (see: Badmotorfinger, Superunknown, Temple Of The Dog) that goes far beyond eclipsing the posturing gibberish found here. It’s hardly worth examining the light misogyny in a line like That bitch ain’t a part of me, and that’s just the tip of this particular iceberg.
The rock-riff glimmer of hope in the final 30 seconds of Get Up is suspect from the start, and gives away to a bizarre, hand-clappy outro that loops itself into the main beat behind Ground Zero, the backing-vocal squawking of which makes for a grating three minutes and change, despite what could’ve been a good vocal showing from Cornell with a little more cooking time.
The repetition of the final three songs on the album seems to be evidence that the steam was running out on this train before it was fiscally advisable. Each song’s chorus is a nearly endless repetition of the title. There would otherwise be promise to Climbing Up The Walls, but the repeating lines are unbearable. On the other hand, everything that could go wrong with Watch Out, has. It’s a mess, an abomination of a lead riff and the most annoying chorus I’ve heard this side of the Pussycat Dolls.
The smoky blues of Two Drink Minimum is promising, and likely the best of this batch, but in the end it’s too little, too late for a powerhouse collision of worlds that never should’ve been.
Truth be told, in all likelihood Scream will ultimately get more speaker time in these parts than Carry On ever has or will- partially due to my recent guilty-pleasure fixation with a certain mulleted 808s-loving egomaniac, but also because this album is a hell of a strange trip, and I still can’t decide whether Cornell’s gone artistically bankrupt or simply making his bid for new relevance in a genre that has zero prior reference for him. But I don’t suppose it matters, either way; in two months’ time Scream should be no more than a whisper to anyone.
March 10, 2009
Interscope / Universal
1. Part Of Me
3. Sweet Revenge
4. Get Up
5. Ground Zero
6. Never Far Away
7. Take Me Alive
8. Long Gone
11. Other Side Of Town
12. Climbing Up the Walls
13. Watch Out
14. 2 Drink Minimum
Reviews published prior to February 23, 2015 used a 1-5 star rating system.