CD Review of Scream by Chris Cornell
Chris Cornell: Scream
Recommended if you like
Musical Reinvention, Midlife Crises, Career Suicide
Label
Interscope
Chris Cornell: Scream

Reviewed by Will Harris

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S
ee the guitar that Chris Cornell is wielding on the front of his new album? If you flip over to the back cover, you’ll see that the guitar has been destroyed. This is probably intended to represent his decision to leave hard rock behind in favor of a new Timbaland-produced sound. It’s just as possible, however, that the instrument was damaged as Cornell tried to protect himself from the angry hordes of Soundgarden and Audioslave fans who were trying to beat the living shit out of him.

Scream is the sort of musical reinvention that causes an artist’s fans’ jaws to drop to record depths, only rising again in order to allow them to start screaming, "Sellout!" But it’s an epithet that emerges only because they can’t rationalize any other excuse for their hero to have changed their sound so dramatically. In truth, very few chart conquerors have begun their to-do lists by writing, "Step #1: Alienate all existing fans of my previous work." As such, your best bet is to approach the record with the presumption that Cornell just said, "Fuck it, it’s time for a fresh start."

Chris Cornell

It’s no wonder that many critics are shredding the record to within an inch of its life, however, since one can scarcely imagine a listener already familiar with Cornell who would put on Scream and, with a single spin, say, "Okay, you’ve sold me." Hearing his voice within such a different musical context definitely takes some getting used to. In the album opener, "Part of Me," he sounds as though he’s putting in a bid to be declared the Justin Timberlake of the grunge generation; it’s such an absurd concept that you may actually burst into laughter when you hear him sing, "She was so friendly / I had one too many / And I let her tempt me / She was rubbing up against me."

But damned if the music doesn’t sound great. Of the emphasis tracks, the title song has a dark sparkle to it, "Ground Zero" manages to be bluesy and danceable at the same time, and "Long Gone" has some surprisingly soulful moments. There are some phenomenal choruses here, too, including "Never Far Away" and "Enemy," both of which would readily fill most dance floors with little remixing required. Timbaland’s production isn’t always as successful as the resulting sales of the albums bearing his credit would have you believe, but in this case, he’s very much at the top of his game, helping Cornell completely reinvent himself and sound great doing it. (Still, you do have to wonder if there’s a single moment on the record that hasn’t been tweaked in some fashion; it might not be sterile, but it certainly isn’t what you’d call organic, either.)

If you manage to survive the Scream experience all the way to the bitter end but still remain a nonbeliever, have faith: although the last listed song ("Watch Out") technically ends at the 4:00 mark, it’s followed by a minute of silence which leads into "Two Drink Minimum," a bluesy rock song where Cornell moans that he’s "no more than two drinks away from crying." Is it an admission of the tears he expects to shed when the album inevitably proves to be a commercial failure – because, really, creative success or not, who the hell is gonna buy this thing? – or is it simply intended as a last-second musical assurance that the album to which you’ve just been listening isn’t a permanent change in sound?

Whichever proves to be the case, one thing’s for certain: Scream is a record that is destined to develop a rabid cult following. Obviously, their numbers won’t come anywhere near reaching the amount of people who’ll loathe it with every fiber of their being, but if you can get behind Cornell’s change in musical direction and aren’t scared of hearing his voice surrounded by an almost entirely inorganic sound, then you’ll quickly find that it’s a very easy album to embrace.

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