Chris Cornell – Scream (Almost Exclusive Review)

Sometimes, when a writer wants to make point about an artist’s descent into awfulness, they’ll get poetic about it, and begin a review with a quote from some of the artist’s earlier lyrics in a sort of “ironic foreshadowing” kind of thing. If I was going to do that for Chris Cornell’s Scream, I’d go back to New Damage, from the Badmotorfinger record, where he sang “This wreck is going down / Get out before you drown”, as his voice hung solemnly above the mire of pitch-black sludge rock. This album, however, deserves no such poignance.

In the nearly year-long build-up to the album’s leak, Cornell fans have been at loggerheads with each other: one group defending Cornell’s right to experiment, the other group openly laughing at the end result. It was a fairly useless, stubborn debate about whether the album would be a masterpiece, or a train wreck. And predictably – oh so very predictably – it’s awful.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the very first minute of the record. Somehow Chris and Timbaland decided it would be a good idea to begin the ordeal with toy-trumpet fanfare, and a bafflingly demon-voiced narrator introducing us to “Chris Cornell – the movie… the experience.” It was embarrassing when cheap horror B-movies from 20 years ago tried doing similar introductions, and it’s even worse now. If it’s a joke that I’m not picking up on – and I sincerely hope it’s not intended to be serious – it’s certainly not one that your average listener is going to get.

It’s actually hard to wrap your head around how much they got wrong with this album. Part Of Me, the first song, is an atrocity – vaguely misogynistic lyrics tied to a squelchy, leaden rhythm. Cornell’s apparent attempt at youthfulness, all designer jeans and carefully tussled hair, only served to add years’ worth of worry lines to my face.

It doesn’t get better over the next few songs – if anything, it gets worse. Time is at best unspectacular – if I wanted to drive a hatchet through it, I’d point out the cheap Casio keyboard sound that makes it appear to be a Cornell vocal take, tied to the kind of thing you could knock out of a cheap PC music creation program inside ten minutes, using nothing but the most basic of stock library samples. But that’s only if I wanted to be mean, and I want to save my vitriol for the next song: the abysmal Sweet Revenge. It’s a veritable cavalcade of horrible, horribly overpowering sound effects. Rather than sounding modern or contemporary, it sounds like the worst 1970’s imagining of what “future-music” might be like, all beeps and oddly-pitched voices. Picture a really bad, over-elaborate end credits song to a 30 year old, low-budget British sci-fi TV series, then picture it 20 times worse, and you’re still aiming too high.

Get Up doesn’t improve things – what’s that robotic “mwah-mwah-mwah-mwah-mee-ooo-wam-wah” backing vocal all about? A strangely out-of-place grinding guitar riff ties it to Ground Zero, which continues the trend of magnificently bad backing vocals, with Cornell’s sampled “aah” sounds resembling a monkey having its tail trod on repeatedly.

It just gets more and more depressing as it goes on. Long Gone manages to be the most uninspiring pop song Cornell will ever write, not even being interesting enough to merit a memorable insult. The final three songs (Other Side of Town, Climbing Up The Walls, and Watch Out) appear to be trying to out-do each other for mind-numbing repetitiveness, with their respective choruses not managing to be anything more creative than the song title, sung 4000 times in a row.

All of that said, there are some small, fleeting glimpses of hope to be seen, even if they are quickly stepped on and ground into a fine dust by the heavy, comically over-sized boot of Timbaland’s production values. There’s the germ of a decent song hidden away in Never Far Away‘s chorus, but it’s buried beneath a layer of programmed beats and blips that only obscures its potential. Take Me Alive starts promisingly, at least managing to sound somewhat memorable thanks to its Eastern vibe, but then you realise that the Eastern sound was the only idea the song had, and it goes nowhere. Slowly. Enemy is the most credibly “club” song, it just forgets to be a “good” song too.

It’s the most hopelessly wretched thing I can remember listening to. For all the promises Cornell made of this being the next Dark Side of the Moon, thanks to the little pieces of music that link all the songs – and to be fair, they are some of the most interesting parts of the album, not that that’s saying very much – it doesn’t even live up to the incoherent hodge-podge of his last record, Carry On.

(And actually, the segues between songs deserve some attention. While they are fairly tolerable pieces of music taken on their own, they do have a habit of being very confusing, seeming oddly out-of-place between the songs they’re supposedly linking. Imagine going to the theatre to see a terrible play, and spending the intermission being fed honey-covered jelly babies by the actors – by comparison with the surrounding experiences, the jelly baby feast seems wonderful, but why are they covered in honey, and what do they have to do with the play?)

The record is being plugged as different and groundbreaking, but really, it’s only different because no Chris Cornell album has ever been less entertaining than a decomposing cabbage before; and groundbreaking only in the sense that you wish the ground would open up and swallow you, lest you have to endure the ordeal of listening to Part of Me again. Apart from that, it’s an identikit Timbaland album.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that without the nihilism of his Soundgarden years (or the alcohol-fueled depression of Euphoria Morning) to fall back on, Cornell is all but creatively bankrupt, reduced as he is to singing about girls being “a bit rubbish”. If Audioslave was the beginning of his artistic decline, this is surely the nadir – forget about artistic relevance, he ceases to be musically relevant here.

So, yeah. On the Big List of Useful Ways to Spend My Time, listening to Scream falls somewhere between stabbing myself in the eye with a sharpened lollipop stick, and shooting amputee puppies with an air rifle  while honking on an airhorn. If this is Chris Cornell: The Movie, it’s a tragic comedy.

And the soundtrack is crap.

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11 Responses to Chris Cornell – Scream (Almost Exclusive Review)

  1. Pingback: Preview: Chris Cornell - ‘Scream’ | ZME Music

  2. Hodge Podge says:

    Don’t waste your time commenting on this people

  3. Mister Hands says:

    Eh? Take issue with something in the review, Podge, or just making demands on random blogs?

  4. severedpuppyarm says:

    I completely agree. This album is awful crap. It is about as “groundbreaking” as Britney Spears’s last album.

  5. Mister Hands says:

    It does sort of rankle when they pile on the “new and innovative” hyperbole, doesn’t it? Audioslave’s Hypnotise was a better stab at this kind of thing for Cornell.

    Although it’s hard to care about something as trivial as an awful record (and it truly is a horrific record) when you read this:
    http://www.chriscornell.com/news/default.aspx?nid=20346

  6. Cory says:

    I don’t find throwaway beats from FutureSex/LoveSounds to be innovative OR groundbreaking –especially not 3 years later.

  7. Pingback: Prince of Persia: A Semi-Retraction « Mister Hands

  8. No way. says:

    Wow – this guy really doesn’t like Cornell, does he..? Or maybe he just doesn’t like hip hop. Either view would mean that he wouldn’t like Scream.

    To the writer of this editorial: Audioslave was the beginning of his artistic decline..? With the musicians of Rage behind CC, how can you say that when they kicked so much ass..? Hypnotise seemed U2-esque to me so I thought it was an interesting pop-rock song.

    While this is not my favorite music from CC, at least I’m honest enough to admit that I like Scream better than Carry On. Are you? Or maybe you enjoy pushing the grandchildren on the swingset while enjoying a fresh glass of Metamucil and listening to the song “Safe and Sound”.

  9. Mister Hands says:

    No way: Audioslave was, without doubt, the beginning of the decline. Sure, every album had a few good songs, but they were, for the most part, creatively empty – quasi-existential verse here, loud chorus there, here comes the screech-solo!

    I’m not saying it didn’t work sometimes, but there was none of the adventure of Soundgarden or Euphoria Morning. Rock Music By Numbers is a harsh term, but it seems to fit. Hypnotise was, as you say, one of the more interesting moments, and if he had gone in that direction instead of Timba-beats on Scream, I probably would have enjoyed it more.

    As for Carry On, you won’t see me claiming it to be a wonderful album anytime soon, but I definitely enjoy it more than Scream. Safe and Sound isn’t groundbreaking or genre-busting like Scream apparently is, but it’s a fine throwback to 60’s soul music. It’s fairly directionless, throwaway pop-rock, but it’s still better than Scream.

    Which says more about Scream’s awfulness than Carry On’s quality.

  10. Pingback: Investing 101 - Don’t buy GM stock « Snarcotic

  11. Pingback: I Go Retro: Twilight… As Played By The Twilight Singers « Mister Hands

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