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Chris Cornell

With his distinctive, 4-octave heavy-metal howl, American rock singer CHRIS CORNELL has weaved his way through three bands of note, namely grunge pioneers SOUNDGARDEN, a one-off Andrew Wood tribute TEMPLE OF THE DOG and RATM-splinter combo, AUDIOSLAVE. And that’s not to mention his sporadic solo albums and his recent SOUNDGARDEN reunification in 2010.
Born Christopher John Boyle, July 20, 1964, Seattle, Washington, the shy and reluctant singer was first a drummer, performing with covers combo, The Shemps, a precursor to SOUNDGARDEN, who featured Hiro Yamamoto and Kim Thayil. Discovering they had a voice within in their ranks as Chris bellowed out the odd song or two, 1984 saw the formation of the quartet when Scott Sundquist, then Matt Cameron, took over the drum-stool. Together with NIRVANA, PEARL JAM, The MELVINS, SCREAMING TREES and ALICE IN CHAINS, SOUNDGARDEN took the globe by storm when grunge came into being at the turn of the 90s. Classic rock had borne new sons as Chris peeled the proverbial paint off walls with “Badmotorfinger” high spots, `Rusty Cage’ and `Jesus Christ Pose’. Fast forward five years, the ambitious “Down On The Upside” (1996) album couldn’t match its predecessor (1994’s “Superunknown”) in critical appraisal or sales, and when attendant single `Burden In My Hand’ wasn’t quite worth two million in the bush, SOUNDGARDEN announced it was all over the following April.
On the back of an initial (early ’98) promo for `Sunflower’, a song exclusively used in the soundtrack to the movie, Great Expectations, work with songwriting team from ELEVEN: multi-instrumentalist Alain Johannes and wife/partner Natasha Schneider commenced on CORNELL’s EUPHORIA MORNING (1999) {*6}. Another one of the album’s songs, `Mission’, would duly wind up on the soundtrack of Mission: Impossible II, while Chris took his team on tour to promote the transatlantic Top 30 set, highlighting his newer, softer approach on `Can’t Change Me’, `Flutter Girl’ and `Preaching The End Of The World’. If one wanted to sound out substance, then one had to draw on the twitchy `Follow My Way’, and his funky homage to JEFF BUCKLEY: `Wave Goodbye’.
When his three-album commitment to AUDIOSLAVE looked to be done and dusted in 2007, CHRIS CORNELL almost immediately resumed his solo career by way of a UK Top 10 “James Bond” theme (`You Know My Name’) from Casino Royale and a long-awaited sophomore set, CARRY ON {*5}. Coming across at times as a tortured heavy-soul singer (`Safe And Sound’ and `Arms Around Your Love’, two prime examples), classic rock disciples had to trawl beyond opener, `No Such Thing’, for anything close to his old self; CORNELL’s ill-advised revision of MICHAEL JACKSON’s `Billie Jean’ was worthy of only X-Factor praise.
Working with hip-hop/R&B producer/artist TIMBALAND on third album, SCREAM (2009) {*3}, was a shock to the system. Listening to Chris’s contemporary collisions was car crash material; if one wanted to buy a BLACK EYED PEAS album then one would buy a Black Eyed Peas album.
In the midst of a hot SOUNDGARDEN reunion which finally produced a comeback set in 2012 (“King Animal”), CORNELL mix ’n’ matched his gutsy growl and sophisti-soul vox on his “unplugged” in-concert timepiece, SONGBOOK (2011) {*7}. Probably not his first attempt at a LED ZEPPELIN track, `Thank You’ was a neat cover, as was (`Imagine’) from another hero, JOHN LENNON. `Black Hole Sun’, `Fell On Black Days’ from his SOUNDGARDEN era and a few from his AUDIOSLAVE posting, made up a worthy attempt at retrospection; the tag-on `The Keeper’ was yet another to feature in a film, this time from 2011’s Machine Gun Preacher.
Taking a leaf from EDDIE VEDDER, the maverick CHRIS CORNELL fused acoustic-metal with glimmers of grunge on 2015’s HIGHER TRUTH {*7}. Roping in Brendan O’Brien on production, this stripped-bare, back-to-basics set was deserved of his return to the higher echelons of the transatlantic chart lists. Mindful of his tenderised 50 years on Planet Earth (30 on “Planet Rock”), the creatively-conscious CC captivated and enticed on opening cuts, `Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart’ and `Dead Wishes’. Though head-shaking SOUNDGARDEN fans might baulk at the deliberately sloth, Baroque-folk delivery on `Through The Window’, `Josephine’ and others, CORNELL’s distinctive rasp soared high above the sun for the title track, `Before We Disappear’ and the Eastern-tinged finale `Our Time In The Universe’.
Sadly, after a performance with SOUNDGARDEN, Chris died on May 18, 2017.
© MC Strong/MCS Feb2013-May2017

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