Chris Cornell is a hugely successful musician with over twenty years of musical history to his name. As the vocalist of Soundgarden, the band at the forefront of Subpop’s “Grunge” movement, to breaking down all barriers with the unexpected release of an urban dance-pop album where he collaborated with prestigious hip-hop/R&B producer, Timberland. Chris Cornell seems to relish on never being restrained by genre, trends, style or time. This is highly evident on his fourth solo release, “Songbook”.
“Songbook” is Chris Cornell laid bare, stripped of any fancy equipment and relying on nothing but a voice and an acoustic guitar. There really is no margin for error here. No other musicians to cover any mistakes. This could be spectacular, or show the World that Chris Cornell no longer has what it takes to stand out vocally.
Recorded on a solo tour during the spring of this year, “Songbook” is a 16-track album that showcases an entire career. Many of the songs are acoustic versions of familiar songs written by Cornell. Here work from solo albums (‘Scar on the Sky’, ‘Can’t Change Me’, ‘Ground Zero’) sits comfortably alongside songs written for the two Grammy Award winning bands the vocalist has fronted – Soundgarden releases (‘Fell on Black Days’, ‘Black Hole Sun’) and Audioslave (‘I am the Highway’, ‘Like a Stone’, ‘Wide Awake’, ‘Doesn’t Remind Me’). “Songbook” even includes two songs written for super group, Temple of the Dog, in which Cornell wrote and performed with the remaining members of Mother Love Bone in tribute to late front man and friend, Andrew Wood (‘Call me a Dog’, ‘All Night Thing’).
New songs ‘As Hope and Promise Fade’, ‘The Keeper’ and ‘Cleaning my Gun’ (originally written for Country legend, Johnny Cash, but never recorded) keeps fan’s thirst for new material at bay. New songs flow into songs that are twenty years old. There is no denying that Chris Cornell‘s song writing ability truly is timeless, and genre-less. Songs that were originally recorded with a full band work as if they had always be written to be played in an acoustic manner. This is highly evident on the song taken from Cornell‘s 2009 solo offering, ‘Scream’. ‘Ground Zero’ translates beautifully on this record, and the message behind the track – written about the 9/11 attacks – seems so much clearer when produced in this way.
The album also includes two hand picked covers; Led Zeppelin‘s ‘Thank You’, and ‘Imagine’ originally recorded by John Lennon, which is “The perfect Easter song”, according to Cornell. Both of these covers respect the original compositions, whilst sympathetically adding Chris Cornell‘s unique style.
Cornell‘s vocals are flawless throughout. Effortlessly reaching the height of his trademark vocal range, and then allowing his voice to soften when necessary to allow the resonant meanings of the lyrics to linger. Chris Cornell knows how to use his voice as an instrument. His pitch, tone, dictation and timing are all astounding.
“Songbook” is an anthology of one man’s career in music. And what a remarkable career that has been. Delving his fingers in many pies and never restricting himself artistically has paid off. Hearing all these songs on a single album forces a sentimental smile, appreciative of one man’s journey through music. The acoustic nature of this album evokes a very calming atmosphere, and the live aspect of it gives us an insight into Chris Cornell himself. His often comedic interactions with the crowd make this album more personable than other releases.
This may not be the Soundgarden release that the world is eagerly awaiting, but it is a bloody marvellous album in it’s own right. Chris Cornell powers through hits with a delicacy that is required for an acoustic record. This album is not only a showcase for Chris Cornell‘s talents, it’s also a beacon for what music should sound like live and uncluttered by production. Bravo!
Written by Kat Papakyriacou