ChriS CorNell 1964-2017
Chris Cornell, Robin Le Mesurier, Sleeper, The Bluetones, Patto, James Elkington
Soundgarden were always the odd band out from the grunge scene: a little too early, a little too metal, and a little too psychedelic. But the factor that most distinguished them from their Seattle peers was at the front of the stage, a long-haired beanpole with a howl that humbled a genre of mumblers.
Chris Cornell’s voice may have been more in line with the hard rock and hair metal that grunge supposedly obliterated, but swept up in the alt.rock wave it became Soundgarden’s secret weapon. While the band’s drop-d power chords and depressive lyrics caught the zeitgeist, nobody else could come close to the high notes that Cornell hit on “Jesus Christ Pose”, never mind starting a song in that implausible register.
at a time when Seattle was the centre of musical attention, few could top Cornell’s emerald City bonafides. Co-founding Soundgarden – as drummer/vocalist! – in 1984, he was present for most of the scene’s defining moments. Soundgarden’s “Hunted down”/“nothing To Say” 7” was among the first non-compilation releases on Sub Pop in 1987. In 1990, Cornell formed the retroactive supergroup Temple of The dog, to pay tribute to his roommate, Mother Love Bone singer andrew Wood. He made a cameo in Cameron Crowe’s scene-codifying Singles, and wrote songs both with and without Soundgarden for the soundtrack – “Seasons” in particular revealing an acoustic side not yet expressed in his main gig.
Their 1991 album Badmotorfinger broke Soundgarden on the world stage, though its slow-burn success also told the story of the time’s changing rock tastes. Before Cobain, Soundgarden opened for the likes of Skid row and guns n’ roses and were considered a brainy strain of metal. after Nevermind, Soundgarden toured in the middle of the 1992 Lollapalooza lineup that defined the alternative generation. even in their new surroundings, they didn’t quite fit the mould, drawing frequent comparisons to then-unfashionable old-timers Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin.
With 1994’s Superunknown, Soundgarden found radio success in the middle ground between their metal and alternative sides – as symbolised by Cornell’s new short hair. Cornell increasingly took on solo songwriting duties, penning the hits “Black Hole Sun,” “Fell on Black days,” and “Spoonman” himself. Besides bringing in poppier influences and psychedelic effects, these songs also found Cornell inhabiting lower octaves, losing little of his individuality while operating at gears lower than lacerating wail. after one more album (1996’s Down On The
Upside) moved Soundgarden even further from the band’s loud origins, the band split, freeing up Cornell to pursue a softer solo career. Besides indulging his folkier side, Cornell’s four studio albums eventually moved into experiments with drum loops and electronics, collaborating with hip-hop mega-producer Timbaland for 2009’s Scream. despite limited sales, Cornell’s solo work did earn him a role in the exclusive club of Bond theme performers, recording “You Know My name” for the 2006 series reboot,
Concurrently, Cornell hooked up with three members of Rage Against the Machine in a marriage of convenience to form Audioslave, fusing the former’s pipes and moody lyrics with the latter’s rap-rock crunch. greeted by critical ambivalence, their three lPs nevertheless scratched a ’90s nostalgia itch for many, and the band made some history by playing the first concert by a uS rock group in Cuba.
over his last few years, Cornell had settled into the reunion business, with the inevitable return of Soundgarden to touring and recording, a brief reformation of temple of the Dog, and even an Audioslave one-off at a trump inauguration protest in January. his massive voice intact, if a bit weathered, Cornell appeared to embrace his grunge survivor status, occasionally showing up at a Pearl Jam gig to belt out an impassioned
“I’m goin’ huunnngraaayyyyYEAAAAAAHHH.”
As such, his apparent suicide in a Detroit hotel room after a Soundgarden show came as a shock, and carried bleak echoes of similar early endings for Wood, Cobain, and layne Staley – another grim Seattle connection. But in the days that followed his death, live “Black hole Sun” tributes from gN’R, Norah Jones, and Ryan Adams underscored the breadth of influence that Cornell left behind. the key line – “No-one sings like you any more” – memorialised a voice that cut across genre as well as it cut through the sludgy morass of ’90s alternative, an octaveleaping instrument that’s an endangered rock species.
• UNCUT • AUGUST 2017
Chris Cornell and Tom morello of Audioslave at the Trump Anti-inaugural ball, January 20, 2017