"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
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
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.