Notes From The Past: Chris Cornell “Scream”: Sometimes Silence Really Is Golden

Anticipation is a bitch, don’t you know. I and half of the Western world anticipated Guns n Roses‘ long suffering “Chinese Democracy” with the fiendishness of a junkie 5 days without a fix only to have the deliverance render not so much as a contact high. When will I learn my lesson? It’s not as if I and the other half of the Western world didn’t “know” that this Chris Cornell/Timbaland thing wasn’t going to work out in anyone’s favor but still…there was a shred of hope that from somewhere within the walls of the recording studio, amid the Auto Tuner, the drum machines, the vocoder, the copious amounts of hallucinogenics, etc., that something akin to.. hell, even the worst Audioslave tune, might come out of collaborating with a one-trick pony on repeat like Timbaland. This miracle musical thing I hoped for underneath this week’s full moon despite my previous blog (actually rant from hellfire) on this subject. Some of you remember it, don’t you…Just Like (Career) Suicide.

From the monkey yelps of “Ground Zero” to the unwarranted misogyny in “Part of Me” (“that bitch ain’t a part of me”) which I look forward to the day when a young man is crooning that little ditty to or about Cornell’s daughter, to the limp-dicked “Long Gone” to the “hey, hey!” and that annoying…what is that…a Wurlitzer twirling in the background of “Watch Out”? He’s criticizing some chick’s driving skillz and in my head I’m seeing backup dancers in booty shorts but I’m not feeling the rock. My iTunes classified the album’s genre as “Rock”. Where’s the f*cking rock?

Absent. AWOL. On leave. Taking a time out. Pissing on itself in shame. Thirteen tracks and one bonus track- “Two Drink Minimum” which is a deep, saloon bluesy trek of regret and the album’s only redeeming feature- but it’s wasted here because the ship still sinks faster than the Lusitania. Thirteen tracks and I got up to #11 and then called it a day. My laptop is pretty and I love her and here I sit questioning the insult of having the 119 MBs of “Scream” taking up space on my hard drive. That space would be better utilized by The Village People because there’s honor in disco as it served a purpose and knows it’s place in the grand scheme of things. Here, Cornell actually has the belief that “Scream” is an artistic breakthrough, his best album (I cut him slack because he always says that about his most current project), and Timbaland…I don’t know what he’s thinking about other than trying to put a rock star in the clubs. With so much gloss, bells, tinkering whistles and effected aural textures Timbaland effectively buries the very thing that is supposed to be the star of the show: Cornell’s ungodly vocal ability. Not lost at all because it apparently never showed up for duty, are the stormy and beautifully abstract nature of Cornell lyrics. Instead what we get are the arrogant plastic words of attitude that make contemporary R&B so much the crap that it is today. I can’t go anywhere near an R&B station because the sounds that pass for good music embarrass me…and I’m Black.
Cornell sings “I’m a long way away from home” in the faux-sitar, dance with sounds of the Middle East “Take Me Alive” and truer words were never spoken/sung by the man’s extraordinary voice. “Carry On”, his last solo effort from 2007, received a lukewarm reception from fans and critics alike due to its over arch of a cheesy adult contemporary nature. That mellow album had its moments and, I swear, still has the potential to actually grow on you and bless him for his treatment of “Billie Jean” Sure, many diehards who cut their emotional teeth on Cornell screaming bloody hell like a bat with its nuts on fire atop insanely loud guitar riffs couldn’t digest “Carry On” but that was to be expected. Others simply appreciated the fact that everyone’s favorite grungy rock god was now a guy in his 40’s, married with children, a restaurant owner, living in *gasp* France, and well hell, was just seemingly a dude finally at ease in his life. Fast forward to 2009 and “Scream” and well, here we are.

Life is hard. And the funny thing is I’m not “mad” at Timbaland. How could I or anyone be? The guy has his gig and he walked right into this project and did exactly what it is he does so very well, what it is that’s made him successful. Cornell on the other hand, is supposed to be the ship’s captain and responsible for his creative output. One thing that Cornell has always had in his favor is the fact that the man has always been musically contradictory; although the label of “grunge” will follow him until the day that he dies, he’s consistently expressed himself through unique collaborations (Temple of The Dog), projects (solo work on “Great Expectations”, “Casino Royale” and “Mission Impossible 2” soundtracks), and simply going his own way (the incomparable “Euphoria Morning”). If “Scream” would have yielded anything that resembled crazy, mind-blowing artistic leaps that really did channel “Dark Side Of The Moon”, man there’d be no more a vocal champion for this (inconceivable) ultimate mash-up than me. Instead “Scream” comes off as little more than piss poor, thinly veiled attempts at what amounts to a musical sex change for the sake of a rock dude mainlining the mediocre mainstream. Media placements with Verizon Wireless…okay. ABC’s drama “Life On Mars” pimping the tune “Ground Zero”…alrighty. I won’t begrudge those things, but I will note how out of place they feel to me but completely apropos for music that would otherwise go nowhere without so much public push.

And that’s all I got. I’m actually surprised that I was able to eek this many words out on a subject that I thought I’d forgo but something about “Other Side Of Town” really pissed me off. Oh yeah, Cornell babbling about a girl dissing him because he screwed up and he has the nerve to ask “What type of shit is she on”? Mind if I ask that very question of you, Mr. Cornell? You really don’t wear this ghetto-fab, urban league, shout out to your homies crap well, and you really should have left that side of town the moment Timbaland began to eviscerate your sound, but hey, get your street cred on, dawg. Holla.

On the flip side, this project is downright fascinating…in that perverse watching a car crash kind of way. Is it wrong of me to almost wish that Cornell was using at the time he conceived this? I could excuse and completely forgive if he told me there was drink/drugs involved.

Scream
March 10, 2009
Interscope / Universal

1. Part Of Me
2. Time
3. Sweet Revenge
4. Get Up
5. Ground Zero
6. Never Far Away
7. Take Me Alive
8. Long Gone
9. Scream
10. Enemy
11. Other Side Of Town
12. Climbing Up the Walls
13. Watch Out
14. 2 Drink Minimum (bonus track)

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