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Chris Cornell - Scream
on 20 March 2009
Every now and then in the increasingly monotonous and disappointing world of popular music, something will happen that is worth raising a head or two. It's not too often mind you - I don't even look forward to these rare glimmers of hope anymore, as they almost certainly lead to immediate and turgid fallout of unremarkable copycats by the record label-load, turning innocent bystanders into clones of each other with identical haircuts, t-shirts, iPods and personalities. Timbaland, whilst possessing some incredible producing talent has got a lot to answer for. His once fresh brand of RnB has now been plastered into all popular music that isn't diabolically written electro pop or forgettable laddish indie rock, and consequently every nightclub in my town sounds exactly the same. Having now amalgamated all popular RnB and hip-hop music, Timbaland has turned his attention to the third solo release from ex-Soundgarden / Audioslave front man Chris Cornell, on which he provides all of the beats.
My initial reaction to learning this news was a desperate urge to pull my hair out, but shortly after this, I remembered that Chris Cornell is NOT a money grabbing sell out but an innovative song writing genius and a hard working one at that, meaning that this collaboration of genii should have me jumping for joy. The end product, 'Scream', is worthy of a reaction somewhere between the two, that leans towards the latter in my case but may not so for other Cornell fans. On 'Scream', Cornell's vocals have remained ever dominant and are a joy to hear, even though his lyrics have been massively simplified this time around. He has chosen to go down an edgier lyrical route, keeping choruses to the point and the themes restricted to relationship speak. It's all a bit too metaphor-y for me at times and certainly doesn't hold up against the superior lyrics of 07's 'Carry On', but they don't grate and they support the music well so all the necessary boxes are therefore, ticked.
After a very un-Cornell sound effects-y introduction, track one opens to a beat that just screams (no pun intended) Timbaland. Cornell howls "That bitch ain't a part of me" whilst synthesizers, fuzzy bass and oodles of backing vocals are crammed into the remaining song space. For the sheer amount of things going on, there is very little that clashes or feels unnecessarily added, which in itself is a very impressive feat, and subsequently gives a great depth to `Scream', rewarding the individual for multiple listens. In terms of what has changed, it is the guitars that have taken the biggest hit, being hard to notice amongst the ocean of electronic sounds. This does not detract from the melodies however, which are of the standard of the previous record if not better - 'Watch Out', 'Ground Zero', 'Sweet Revenge' and title track 'Scream' all possess the catchiness of Cornell's finest past songwriting.
Another "new" addition is the way that one song seamlessly runs into the next without pause, which in one or two instances stands out too much but works well for the vast majority of the record. The main advantage to these transition periods is that they give each track its own uniqueness, and the record as a whole a sense of progression throughout its 63 minute play time. I've got to say that it really makes the record work - the experience of playing this record is more like watching a movie (albeit without the pictures), where by diving in at track six you feel as though you have missed some of the plot. Even if you go straight to the lead single 'Scream', the transitions compel you to continue listening. It is so rewarding to listen to a record where care has gone into the writing of every song, where every song has a sense of worth and where it doesn't feel stale after reaching track four.
The question that every die hard Cornell fan will be asking themselves is "Has Chris torched his career by collaborating with Timbaland?", the answer to which I believe Cornell's fan base will be split right down the line on. 'Scream' gets the thumbs up from me, but with great reservations. If your music taste is eclectic and stretches into the dark realms of popular RnB, then you may be pleasantly surprised. It is equally likely however, that `Scream' will cause your ears to bleed, especially if you are loyal to the grunge genre. My advice is this; buy 'Scream' if you value the songwriting more than you do the typical Cornell rock aesthetic, and if you also have the patience to listen to it the required number of times before it reveals its well-paced and multi layered identity. It may be the best music buying decision you make all year.