Release Date: Mar 10, 2009
Record label: Interscope
Genre(s): Rock, Alternative
Turns out that cover of Michael Jackson’s ”Billie Jean” on Chris Cornell’s last solo album was prophetic; the former Soundgarden/Audioslave frontman’s controversial new CD seems like nothing so much as an attempt to create his very own Thriller. What’s more surprising than Scream‘s R&B bells and whistles (provided by überproducer Timbaland) is that Cornell almost succeeds at that goal without tarnishing his hard-rawkin’ legacy. Expansive ballads like ”Never Far Away” and ”Long Gone” sound like dance-floor cousins to ”Black Hole Sun,” and ”Time” is perhaps the funkiest song to bear that title since Sly Stone’s.
In case you didn't catch the symbolism, Chris Cornell is smashing a guitar on the cover of Scream because he's done with those six-strings -- he's leaving it all behind for Timbaland, who has long wanted to leave hip-hop and R&B behind to make a rock album. If this seems like the pair are working at cross-purposes to achieve the same goal, that's as accurate an assumption as the guess that the two are abandoning their strengths, even their sense of self, in a bizarre shared middle-age crisis. Scream is one of those rare big-budget disasters, an exercise in misguided ambition that makes no sense outside of pure theory.
There are still people out there who don’t take popular music seriously. To them, it’s something frivolous and simplistic, pleasant in the same crude and mindless way as scratching a mosquito bite, an underdeveloped form of “art” that deserves no more serious inspection than an eight-year-old’s drawing of a zombie fighting a robot. And as much as these self-righteous ignoramuses deserve to be abhorred, as much as popular music has tangibly enriched my own life—and assumedly your life, if you’re taking time out of your day to read this review—after listening to Chris Cornell’s Scream, I have to grudgingly concede to them: Ok, yeah, you guys have a point.
After his second solo album (2007’s Carry On) and three mostly bad albums with Audioslave failed to make Chris Cornell a star for something other than being the singer and only good-looking guy in Soundgarden, he went into disaster mode and hired Timbaland -- who knows a thing or two about disasters (his solo album obviously included) -- to produce his third solo effort, Scream. Timbaland rose to the challenge of making Chris Cornell a solo star by producing arguably the worst album he’s ever had a hand in. Cornell used to be known as the wailing Tyrannosaur who gave voice to the Zeppelin-esque power of Soundgarden’s sludge.