Ultramega OK

Cornell's first-ever solo song was "Seasons," which appeared on the "Singles" soundtrack.

"I'm on a mission now," former Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell sings

on his solo debut, Euphoria Morning. However, listening to the

whole album, it's not exactly clear what that mission is. When Soundgarden

suddenly announced their breakup in 1997, the band had not yet suffered

a serious commercial or critical decline, and if there was any turmoil

among the bandmembers, it certainly wasn't public knowledge. The usual

"creative differences" were cited, but two years later, Cornell has

emerged with 12 new songs that simply are not much different from those

of his former band.

Musically speaking, there is little here that might answer the question

of why Cornell felt the need to leave Soundgarden behind. For the most

part, the songs have the same turgid tempos, grim lyrics and creepy minor

chords that marked most of Soundgarden's work, but they lack the

anvil-heavy crunch and booming production values that made that band so

distinctive. With Euphoria Morning, Cornell doesn't seek to reinvent

himself as a singer-songwriter a la Paul Westerberg or try to merely ape

his former band. Instead, he tries a little of both, with middling

results.

Tellingly, the most intriguing songs here are the ones in which Cornell

puts some distance between his new work and his old. For example, the

most powerful track is the sparest one, "Sweet Euphoria" (RealAudio

excerpt), in which Cornell accompanies himself on acoustic guitar.

This simple arrangement delivers a lot more power than any of the songs

with full band backing and hints at what might have been had Cornell

really followed through and attempted a course that differed so markedly

from his previous work. Even further out is "When I'm Down," a bluesy,

piano-based torch song, and Cornell proves himself an able crooner. Though

he is certainly still capable of achieving ear-splitting falsetto, it's

interesting to hear what his voice can do when it doesn't have to fight

to be heard over the din.

These two songs prove to be the exception rather than the rule. Just as

it was on such latter-day Soundgarden singles as "Black Hole Sun" (have

you heard the Steve Lawrence/ Eydie Gorme version?), "Fell On Black Days"

and "Blow Up the Outside World," Cornell's weapon of choice is the

apocalyptic ballad, but he's running out of fresh material on the topic.

The well-worn genre is represented here by the dour album-closer "Steel

Rain" and "Preaching the End of the World," on which Cornell sounds eerily

like Radiohead's Thom Yorke. The latter, as well as songs like "Flutter

Girl," are peppered with various low-tech sonic noodlings, but most of

these ideas are pushed way back in the mix. The album's first single,

"Can't Change Me" (RealAudio

excerpt), is a languid waltz with a snaky Eastern-flavored guitar

riff, but like much of this album, it's decent without being in any way

memorable.

Though heavier songs like "Pillow of Your Bones" (RealAudio

excerpt) and "Follow My Way" manage to hold their own, it's hard

to think of them as anything other than glorified demos for what could

have been a pretty good Soundgarden album. Cornell's backing band, Seattle's

Eleven, is capable enough, but they simply don't dazzle the way Soundgarden

did, nor are they meant to. And as unfair as it may be to Cornell to keep

comparing this album to the work of his previous band, it's nearly

impossible not to given the similarity of the material. Kim Thayil, Ben

Shepherd and Matt Cameron figure as prominently here with their absence

as they have on any Soundgarden album with their presence. Maybe this

is Cornell's prime goal in going solo — to front a band that is not

in danger of outshining (sorry) him.

Generally plodding with a few bright moments, Euphoria Morning is,

to crib another title from Cornell's old band, ultramega OK.