When Chris Cornell began to demo the songs for his debut solo album, the
results were spare at first.
But as he started recording Euphoria Morning (due Sept. 21), the
songs began to fill with experimental sounds that might seem foreign to
fans of his former band Seattle grunge-rockers Soundgarden. He
used such instruments as timpani, mandolins and drum machines for texture.
"Over the years, I've always kept writing hard-rock music," the 35-year-old
Cornell said. "But at the same time, there was a pretty obvious shift,
if you look at some of the songs I wrote for Soundgarden over the last
couple of records. There should be indications in there, like, 'Fell on
Black Days' and 'Black Hole Sun' ... songs that are very somber and
ethereal" (RealAudio excerpt
The introspective, psychedelic rock of the new album's first single,
"Can't Change Me" (RealAudio
excerpt), is the first taste fans have gotten of Cornell's
expanded sound. The artist said that students of Soundgarden's music can
find the genesis of "Can't Change Me" in some of the band's hits, such
as "Blow Up the Outside World" (RealAudio
excerpt) and "Fell on Black Days." After all, Cornell led the
band for 12 years until it broke up in 1997.
Cornell's solo debut is full of unexpected sounds and musical adventures.
After a nearly two-year absence from record stores, Cornell has returned
with an album that draws equal inspiration from the experimental rock of
late-period Beatles albums, psychedelic pioneers Pink Floyd and the
emotionally resonant, baroque pop of late singer Jeff Buckley. The latter
is eulogized on the bluesy soul tune "Wave Goodbye."
Cornell said the melodically see-sawing "Can't Change Me," released
three weeks ago, came to him quickly and almost fully formed. "It's one
of those songs that wrote itself," Cornell said. The chorus, "She's going
to change the world/ But she can't change me/ No, she can't change me,"
could be seen as either an act of defiance by the narrator or an act of
discovery, Cornell said.
"It didn't necessarily feel [defiant] to me," said Cornell, who reiterated
his long-held desire not to dissect his often abstract lyrics. "In the
sense that it was the narrator kind of just discovering and thinking ...
maybe there are things he'd like to change about himself, and this person
seems to have influence over a lot of situations in a positive way, and
that doesn't seem to be rubbing off on him" (RealAudio
excerpt of interview).
The song was one of three early demos that Cornell played for Alain
Johannes and Natasha Shneider of the Los Angeles band Eleven. The pair
backed Cornell on the song and helped him produce and engineer the effort,
which was recorded at their home.
"I remember one morning receiving a fax and sitting in my pajamas with
the headphones and going, 'Wow, wow,' " Shneider said of her first exposure
to the demos for "Can't Change Me," "Wave Goodbye" and "Moonchild."
"Musically I thought they were really cool and a quite a step in a
different direction," Shneider explained. "Here, I go, 'Wow, the boy is
evolving.' That's what a true artist is supposed to do."
In addition to using snatches of programmed drums and funky wah-wah
guitar, the album also finds Cornell flirting with blues and jazzy
crooning on the songs "Disappearing One" and "When I'm Down." Former
Soundgarden and current Pearl Jam drummer Matt Cameron appears on "Disappearing
One" and Guns n' Roses drummer Josh Freese plays on a number of tracks.
So far, radio programmers and fans seem to have accepted Cornell's
experimentation, according to Sky Daniels, general manager of radio trade
magazine Radio & Records.
"The first reaction is that people are going along with Chris Cornell in
the sense that they're allowing him some latitude outside Soundgarden,"
Daniels said. Last week, "Can't Change Me" climbed from #24 to #14 on
the magazine's Alternative chart and from #12 to #8 on the Active Rock
chart, Daniels said, calling the movement "impressive."
"From time immemorial, programmers and listeners have wanted stars to
replicate their biggest hits over and over again," he said. "But because
he's [an icon] of the grunge movement, I think people are giving him the
benefit of the doubt, and I think people will have to accept that this
isn't a Soundgarden record."