“Stunningly bad” is the best way I can sum up Chris Cornell’s latest effort. The huge voice from the mighty Soundgarden has reduced himself to slumming with the (s)hit factory that is producer (and wannabe singer) Timbaland. Cornell’s career since Soundgarden’s heyday has been a sad, slow progression of diminishing artistic returns and one can’t help but ask if Scream will mark a low point from which he never returns.
Following Soundgarden’s demise, there was his very average 1999 solo release Euphoria Morning. 2002 brought the formation of Audioslave with Cornell fronting 3/4 of Rage Against The Machine. Considering the pedigree of both camps, it was a pretty safe bet that what would result from the pairing would be something monstrous and memorable, yet the three releases they put out during their five year tenure were anything but. In 2007 the slide continued with Carry On, Cornell’s second solo set.
Perhaps Cornell was all too conscious of his own mediocrity and decided to go in a completely different musical direction in an effort to shake things up and challenge himself. Most definitely, his fans will be more than challenged by Scream. I know many people have diverse tastes, but one has to think that there is a very limited audience of Soundgarden and Audioslave fans who will appreciate Cornell’s latest work. When I first heard of his collaboration with Timbaland I was, naturally, shocked because it’s such an odd pairing. The final results shocked me even more, as my expectations of it being a rock record with Timbaland's r & b and production-heavy touches shading it were completely off the mark - Cornell’s identity on Scream is virtually absent. There’s some signature big vocal stretches here and there, but this may as well be the kind of music that Timbaland came up with for his previous no-talent clients like The Pussycat Dolls or Justin Timberlake.
Scream’s cover shows Cornell in mid-air and just about to smash a guitar - let that be an unsubtle warning to fans that there is precious little guitar on this album. Some heavy distorted electrics kick in at the end of “Get Up” and are sprinkled throughout “Never Far Away”, but really don’t do anything to improve the soggy soundscape populated by auto-tuned vocals and limp computer generated hip hop percussion that run throughout the entire album. And as if the songs weren’t bad enough on their own, the tracks are sequenced so that they all run into one another with no gaps, unfolding as an hour-long, non-stop insult to the ears.
Artists going in different directions and experimenting is obviously a vital piece of the creative process for most. U2, The Beatles, and David Bowie have done so with great success, while acts such as The Rolling Stones, AC/DC, and Aerosmith pretty much stick to the same formula, which has served them well for most of their careers. Musical experimentation is always a risky path in regard to how the fans will receive the results, but then complacency and playing it safe equals creative death for many musicians. A Cornell quote before the album’s release about his hope that his fan base would appreciate his need to try new things and follow him down a new musical path falls right in line with the expectations and sentiments other artists in the same situation have expressed throughout time. One can’t fault Cornell for that, just for the decision to challenge them this much with such a misguided collection of music.