Chris Cornell - An Appreciation

When an artist passes you reminisce about their work and how it touched you. Many influential artists have recently passed away, in the last few years we've lost Lou Reed, David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen. Giants.
Chris Cornell was one of my biggest influences as a songwriter. I learned to play guitar in drop D with the Soundgarden song Outshined. 
Superunknown was an album that dared me to be adventurous. Through Chris I discovered Jeff Buckley. In an interview in a magazine called Seven Seconds (If I remember correctly) or maybe another one from when he was promoting Euphoria Morning, he spoke about how he wanted to be that kind of artist, what Jeff Buckley was. That it wasn't about selling albums.
His song "Wave Goodbye" was a tribute to Buckley.

Incredibly though, Euphoria Morning shocked me at first because it wasn't the balls out hard rock album I was expecting from the lead singer/songwriter of that riff juggernaut, Soundgarden.
I was visiting friends in NY (Henry Mena of La Ruta and Rafael Lazzaro from dominican rock band POket) and  as I remember it, they basically convinced me about the greatness of one track in particular "Preaching the End of the World". That was the parting point for me.
The album just grew on me from there. I had a tendency back then to try to listen to albums as a whole when I was listening to music alone. I would just let an album play while I did other things (like write a blog post, do the cleaning... whatever). The one thing that's great about that is that your mind is not actively analyzing what you're listening to, so you kind of discover things by accident... "Wait, what was that chord?" "What was that?" "Hey that song is cooool!"
So, Euphoria Morning became a record I would recommend and even gifted a few times.
"You have got to listen to this album!". Although I never really got into Eleven I discovered them through their work with Chris on this album which also made me rethink the approach of using a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) such as Pro-Tools, Digital Performer, Logic etc apart from a recording medium, as an actual production tool to change and play with sounds.

I'm a huge James Bond fan and have read most of the novels including ones not written by Ian Fleming. When Casino Royale came out in 2006 one of the highlights for me apart from seeing a great Bond film was Cornell's theme song "You Know My Name". I thought the song actually reflected well on what the character had always been in my mind from the novels.

AUDIOSLAVE
That first Audioslave album was incredible. I have to thank my good friend Pablo Ferrer for lending me his copy in Santo Domingo when it first came out. It was hard for him to part with it for a week or so until I got my copy. I played it non-stop and the songs that immediately jumped out at me, apart from "Cochise" (What a buildup!), were "I am the Highway" and "Gasoline. As a huge RATM fan, at first I asked myself how that was going to work out. Great! Chris's melodies and lyrics took what in essence could have been Rage music in another direction.  It was an interesting marriage. Curiously, as much as I loved that first album, I didn't follow through on the others with the same enthusiasm. The ubiquitous hits aside, I haven't really listened to those albums, Out of Exile and Revelations, as a whole probably since they came out.

Fave tracks on Audioslave: Cochise, I am the Highway, Getaway Car, Gasoline, Light my Way,...

CARRY ON
By far, this has to be in my opinion, one of the most underrated albums from a major artist. In 2007 Cornell put out his second solo album. I was ready for whatever twists and turns he was gonna throw our way. There's a little bit of everything on here.
"Silence the Voices" was an immediate stand-out with its, what to me seemed, anti-war message.
"Safe and Sound" is another great track which has a kinda of throwback Motown vibe in its arrangement. (here's a live version of it "Safe and Sound live")
Now, I must admit, I don't always enjoy seeing live videos of my favorite artists, and he's no exception. Sometimes it seemed like he was straining, specially in songs from this album. Of course, touring and the rock and roll lifestyle can take a toll on anyone's voice. A voice like Chris's who was alway raging in the upper reaches of his range would be vulnerable to the perils and excesses of the the rock world. So I don't think live versions of the songs on this album did them justice. But that's just from seeing videos on youtube. It could also be that I've internalized the album so much that I'm used to the songs as they are on the record. I used to sleep with this album on repeat in the background.

My favorite tracks on Carry On are, in no particular order: Silence the Voices, Safe and Sound, Finally Forever, Ghosts, Arms Around your Love...  But really, just play the whole thing non-stop and enjoy it.

I rarely talk on social media about artists we lose.  Maybe share an article an or two.  But with Chris it was something else. To be blunt, it pissed me off that it turned out to be a suicide. That doesn't diminish his work in my mind but it made me step back and give it some time to sink in so that I could write this.
I didn't know Chris Cornell but I loved his music and it was and has been the soundtrack of my life through some hard personal times. It's also been an adventure, a ride. The Beatles lover in me appreciates the Beatles lover in him through the majesty of a tune like Soundgarden's Blow up the Outside World .

And, like I said above with Superunknown, his songwriting dared me to try things. Music can be formulaic and Chris certainly could do that, but he was great at stretching the limits of form.
Take a song like "Black Hole Song" which seems so approachable cause it sticks to certain songwriting forms, but that song is by no means a mainstream tune. It just happens to be a great song with an incredible arrangement, that went mainstream. Beautiful eerie melody and vivid lyrics that take you places.
Soundgarden as a whole was an incredible group and Superunknown is the epitome of their potential. Strange guitar tunings, great inventive drumming, bass lines that run through mazes, and odd time signatures were all glues for Cornell's melodic and lyrical prowess on top.

There's still a lot of Cornell music left for me to discover, albums that I haven't really dived into like the earliest Soundgarden or his acoustic efforts.  Revelations and Out of Exile are albums that I have to revisit.
But of course, we're left to wonder about the music that could have been.

Here's a Spotify playlist of some of my fave Cornell tracks.




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