What would you get if you took one of the most iconic voices in modern hard rock and mixed it with one of the hottest producers of the past decade, known for his thick hip-hop beats and tricky time signatures?
If the singer is leather-lunged former and frontman and the knob-twiddler is none other than , well, you’d get … songs that kind of sound like Chris Cornell singing over Timbaland beats. After months of hype and head-scratching among Cornell fans, the first results of the oddball pairing that both artists have said produced the best music of their careers were unveiled Tuesday on Matt Pinfield’s radio show on New York’s 101.9 FM. . (Take a look at other bizarre cross-genre collaborations in the MTV Newsroom blog.)
Cornell’s Scream is due out in the fall, and based on the 30-second snippets of songs he previewed during the show, the results are sure to stir up controversy among the singer’s fans. The first single, “Long Gone,” opens with laser-effect keyboards over a Coldplay-like piano figure as Cornell’s tweaked-out vocals echo in the background and an unmistakable Timbo stutter-step beat bubbles up.
Cornell told Pinfield that it was his brother-in-law Nick, a nightclub owner in Paris, who originally suggested Timbaland might be a good person to remix some songs from Cornell’s previous solo album, Carry On. But Cornell said once he approached Tim, the producer wasn’t into doing just a few songs — he wanted to make a whole album.
“He was super into that … and we got into the studio and made a whole album,” Cornell said of the LP, which they wrote and recorded in six weeks. “But then we went off in this direction of musically, sort of conceptually tying the whole thing together [so that] it almost harkens back to albums that I listened to when I was a kid, where the music never stops. It’s really an album-oriented album.”
More than any other album he’s made, Cornell said Scream begs to be listened to on headphones all the way through. The title track at first seems like a more traditional Cornell offering, with an ominous, vaguely churchy-sounding buildup of keyboards and glitchy tick-tock rhythms, which again segue into one of Tim’s patented funky drum-machine rhythms. Cornell said the theme of the song is about how in relationships, “we get sort of lost in the arguments and the fights about things that could easily just be talked about and ended.”
Aside from connecting on a musical level, Cornell said he and Timbaland share an affinity for constantly creating new material, which is why the pair were able to cook up so many songs so quickly. Unlike many of the other producers he’s worked with over the years — most of whom he said he ignored — Timbaland struck Cornell as someone who “comes in with actual musical ideas. He’s somebody who’s also a musical genius and a songwriter and records in very unorthodox ways. … He’s sort of reinventing the way he does things at the same time as working with an artist. You can’t compare him to anyone.”
Cornell described the tune “Ground Zero” as having a style he’s been trying to nail his entire career, with lyrics about trying to stop the people who use the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as an excuse to “do a lot of bad things.” Amid handclapping, foot-stomping and Tim’s beatboxing, Cornell sings, “When it all falls down/ And the law don’t count/ And it don’t seem fair/ And the people don’t care,” in his ragged voice, tinged with some soul-man flair.
The other songs Cornell unwrapped during the appearance were the life-on-the-road tune “Never Far Away,” a pure Timbaland classic with a big, fat, Justin-worthy club beat and swirling keyboards that nearly drown out Cornell’s silky “whoa, whoa” moans, and “Watch Out,” a cowbell-clanging banger that wouldn’t be out of place on a Pink or Britney album.
Cornell said the reaction so far from fans has been “really good” and that he feels like they’re ready for artists to mix things up. “I just want to have fun with music and do what I’m inspired by and … if I’m inspired by it, then someone else will be,” he said. “If you get into a kind of comfortable corner, where you’re doing what you’re used to — you’re doing what you know how to do — you can get locked in that corner and stuck there and you’re done. That’s never going to happen to me.”