I had a friend in high school who always said "opinions are like assholes; everybody's got one." It was kind of his way of saying, "we have to agree to disagree." We would argue frequently, and this was his way of ending arguments. So, when I say that the '90's were the hidden second "golden age" of guitar rock, and you disagree... well then, opinions are like assholes. And you are one. An asshole.
The 1990's, and the rock music that came with it - not just "alternative" or "grunge," but a lot of rock music at the time - owed a great deal to the music that came not a decade before it, but two to three decades before it. Black Sabbath's metal, Led Zeppelin's proto-metal blues-rock, The Who's arena rock, and The Beatles psychadelia all played a huge role in the guitar-drive rock of the '90's. So too did punk pioneers like the Clash, the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, and more obscure acts like Television, X, and the Damned. Add in a dash of brontosaurus rock like Neil Young, and some NWBHM (new wave of British Heavy Metal) like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, the Scorpions and UFO (not necessarily British), even bands like Motorhead and T-Rex and David Bowie... and you mix it all up. Welcome to '90's rock.
Like many of the great bands from the '70's, many of the '90's bands were modeled after the "dynamic frontman" and "lead guitar player with mystique." Plant had his Page. Ozzy had his Iommi. Tyler had Perry, Bowie had Ronson, Jagger had Richards, Daltrey had Townshend. And, in the the great detritus of '90's grunge rock, Cornell had his Thayil.
More metal and less punk than their peers, and more experimental to boot, Soundgarden mined the same ore that Sabbath and Led Zep made famous, though a bit less bluesy. As their career progressed, the Kiss and Sabbath metalisms of guitarist Kim Thayil gave more and more way to the John Lennon/Beatlesisms of lead singer Chris Cornell. While Cornell was, without argument, the strongest set of pipes in '90's music, owing vocally more to Robert Plant and Ozzy than Lennon or Mac or Harrison, musically Cornell drew heavily from the Beatles.
Never was this more evident than on Soundgarden's last two albums, Superunknown and Down On The Upside. Literally all of the Cornell-penned tracks can draw a comparison to the Beatles, particularly Lennon's work. Add this to the band's already experimental side and their heavier-than-thou sound, and Cornell's own wail-of-a-wounded-banshee vocals, and Soundgarden was without a doubt one of the strongest and best musical acts from the 1990's and the grunge era.
There is no finer album from that era than Superuknown. It is quite possibly the best album from the '90's. The follow-up, and that band's swan song, contained songs that really highlighted Cornell's Lennon-esque obsessions ("Blow Up The Outside World," anyone?). Strangeness and despair, musical experimentation, it was all there. And Cornell helmed the great and mighty ship.
I was sad when the band called it quits. And excited when Cornell released his first solo record, the criminally under-appreciated Euphoria Morning. "Preaching the End of the World" might be one of his best songs, and showed a tender side not really seen before. "Pillow of Your Bones" and "Mission" harkened back to his days in Soundgarden. "When I'm Down" and "Wave Goodbye" broke new sonic ground - hell, the whole album did - for Cornell as an artist. It was a statement. Critics hated it because it was different; fans hated it because it wasn't like Soundgarden. And I, typically, loved it.
I didn't buy his second solo album, for really no reasons other than I had moved on and was emmersed in Americana by that point. What I heard off of it, I enjoyed. I even enjoyed his Casino Royale theme song. I liked it a bit. Of course, between those, we had Audioslave, Cornell's collaborative efforts with ex-Rage Against The Machine members Tom Morello, Brad Wilk, and TimY2K-whatever the fuck his name is. And... when the first demos leaked online, I heard them, and was excited. When the project was mired in record-label problems, I was disappointed. When the first album came out, I liked it, even loved most of it. The following albums had incredible moments. All in all, Audioslave was not great overall, but was pretty good, and that was enough, especially when compared to the rest of the shit music that ruled rock radio by that point. I'll take Audioslave over Three Days Grace and Nickleback any day of the week, and twice on Sundays, thank you very much. At least we got to hear that banshee-wail again!
The point being, Cornell is a damn rock-vocalist god. He fucking rules, owns, and then some. The man has the pipes of a gorram demon and angel, all wrapped up in one.
And his new song makes me want to scream.
"Ground Zero," the first single off of Chris Cornell's new album, Scream, is the sound of a demon getting kicked square in the nuts, then booted out of Hell for being a pussy. "Oh, how the mighty have fallen" doesn't even begin to do this piece of crap song justice, nor the height of the man who is singing, nor how far he has fallen. Produced by Timbaland? Really? What the fuck for?
My rage is nearly uncontrollable, my mind and heart inconsolable. Why, Chris... why? From the spoken dialog at the track's beginning, coupled with pseudo-James Brown funky "ahs!", to the melancholy acoustic outro/segue to surely some other trashy number, this song sucks. Beginning to end. It sounds exactly what you would fear something would sound like when you pair the voice of an entire rock era with the producer from an entire era of hip-hop.
Let's take a moment to breath. This worked with Aerosmith and Run-DMC, right? I've already written hear about Cornell's vocal and song-writing prowess; Timbaland, though involved in music I generally don't like, is no slouch either. The man can write, create beats, and produce. He's produced a number of prominent hip-hop, pop, and rap artists, including Jay-Z, Missy Elliot, Snoop Dogg, Ludacris, The Fray, and Justin Timberlake. None of them may be your (or my) particular cup of tea, but that partial list is pretty damn good; it's a damned who's who in pop, hip-hop and rap music. So it's not like Timbaland is a bad producer.
I watched a myspace music interview with these two several months ago, and to be honest, I was scared shitless when I heard they were working together. Then I watched that little video, and thought to myself, "maybe this will work!" It sounded promising - they spent the entire time complimenting each other, blowing sunshine up each other's asses, but generally making it seem like they were enthused to be A) working together and B) working on this material, and proud of it. They shouldn't be; they should feel disgraced. It doesn't neither artist nor producer any favors. It's laughable. It's the downfall of not only a GREAT artist, but one of the most famous pop producers of our time.
So, if you've read so far, you know I have made a judgement on one entire album based on one song, "Ground Zero." The thing is, the internets is in revolt over this damned Scream album. The A.V. Club is having a puke-fest. Allmusic.com might have gave it 1.5 stars (out of 5), or none at all - I can't tell. I don't even want to check what Pitchfork says - they normally crush my soul with their heartless, plastic reviews anyway. I can't stand to see what they'd say about the man with the golden ticket set of pipes, falling from such a great height. So, it is safe to say... this album is going to suck. "Ground Zero" sucks.
I know that no artist wants to be pigeon-holed into one style or genre, but for the love of Christ... Chris Cornell, please announce that after this tour you're doing a Soundgarden reunion tour. Or Audioslave. Or a Great Expectations soundtrack reunion tour. Something, anything, to make up for this. Bring us back the banshee wail, backed by the hammer of Zeus. Ditch the hip-pop tripe, and get back to what you do best.