Chris Cornell is someone whose career can be broken down into chapters, where solo albums act as the chapter breaks. In the early 1990s he rose to fame as the great voice and charismatic frontman of Soundgarden, a band that I did not immediately take to. I found myself a fan before long, what with the great songs on Badmotorfinger and Superunknown. Following the dissolution of that band, he released the excellent Euphoria Morning, a collection of more heartfelt voice-oriented songs that was decidedly different from Soundgarden. That was followed by the formation of Audioslave with the instrumentalists of Rage Against the Machine, and they proceeded to create a solid style of hard rock. Now with Audioslave apparently finished in the wake of a Rage reunion (one show, anyway), he has returned to the singer/songwriter circuit with this second solo outing. Carry On may not be Euphoria Morning, but it is still a light, sometimes haunting change of pace for one of rocks best voices.
If nothing else, Cornell has done different things at each stage of his career, never looking back, never attempting to recreate what has been done. Sure, I would welcome a return of Soundgarden, and I believe there is still room in the current musical landscape for more Soundgarden, but if that never happens we will still have the great albums they did release. His first solo outing stepped away from the high powered alt-grunge style and was a much more sedate excursion into a more personal side of Cornell's mind. Audioslave was another style still, not grunge, not alternative, but solid songwriting in a great hard rock coating. Now we have a return to that more personal style of his last solo album. It does not recreate what he did there, but it is in that style. I just love the different music he has been a part of for so many years.
Carry On is an album that may have a little more filler than I would have liked, but the highs are strong, and the lows really aren't all that low. There is an aura of introspection to the songs, a glimpse into shattered love, loss, and heartfelt emotion, at strong odds with his work as a part of a band. His voice is strong thoughout, and what a voice it is. This album covers gound that is distinctly Cornell, yet not really. It shows Cornell trying different things, some successful, some not, but never is it boring. It seems that some would rather he just repeat himself, recreate his glory years, rather than try to do something different, and then criticize him for that. This is Cornell going his own way, and I am happy with that.
The opening track, "No Such Thing," is a good introduction to this new sound Cornell. It is a blend of grunge inflected rock and acoustic mellowness that features that trademark voice soaring over it. That is followed by "Poison Eye" which feels like a Soundgarden track with some of the energy drained. It is not bad, but it is one of those songs that doesn't quite work. The slip doesn't last long as "Arms Around Your Love" has this nice morose acoustic pop feel to it that is comfortable and easy to listen to. It gets stronger from there with the beautiful "Safe and Sound."
Wavering between acoustic driven melancholy balladry and pop rockers, the album is eminently listenable, even through lower points like "She'll Never Be Your Man" and "Your Soul Today." Cornell simply has one of my favorite rock voices, whether he is belting out "Jesus Christ Pose," or dialing back for "Disappearing Act," or anything in between. The solo work may be a little self indulgent in the lovelorn content, but it is still strong work that does not feel like a retread, it is an artist looking in directions he couldn't within the construct of a band.
I would be remiss if I failed to weigh in on the curious cover tune. There has been divided opinion on it, with much not caring for it, from what I have read. I am, of course, talking about the re-imagining of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean." He has stripped away all of the dancy poppiness and turned into a rather depressing love lost dirge. I love it. Yes, I said it. It is a bold and daring choice, he really makes the song his own and the results are quite beautiful. It is just a great cover. Is it gimmicky? Perhaps, but so what? He makes the song work in a wholly different style.
The album closes with a tacked on track, his theme for the recent James Bond film, Casino Royale. "You Know My Name" is the showstopper, and it sticks out like a sore thumb in this collection of more or less stripped down tunes. It is a big production number, with orchestral strings and brass, and a big expansive sound that is definitely out of place. Is it the greatest of its kind? Nope, it isn't even among the top Bond themes. However, I have found it catchy and have grown to enjoy it. Of course, it doesn't hurt that is associated with a film that is incredible, and among the best of Bond films.
Bottomline. This is definitely a good album, but it isn't great. There are some great songs blended in with the mediocre. You could almost listen to every other song and get a very good EP out of this. Still, even when he is not at the top of his game, the resulting music is always interesting and listenable.Powered by Sidelines