Friday, 18 November 2011
Chris Cornell's Songbook: Review
‘Songbook’ is not only Chris Cornell unplugged - it’s Chris Cornell untroubled by genre. Here are his songs in their purest form, stripped of anything that might pin them down in time, place, category or style. The man who fronted two platinum-selling rock bands and experimented with everything from urban dance-pop to Italian nu-jazz is here relying only on an acoustic guitar and his own extraordinary voice.
And what a voice it is. Whatever damage might once have been done by booze and cigarettes has long since healed, and what’s left is a mature instrument of unparallelled expressive power. It’s not just about range with this man - it’s about timing, agility and above all musical instinct. And over fifteen live tracks, all recorded on his Spring tour this year, he barely puts a foot wrong.
Cornell knows just when to bend a note and by just how much; he knows when to fall back to a whisper and when to let his voice swell and resonate. On Can’t Change Me he plays with the musical metre of a phrase, dropping lazily behind the beat and then seizing on a moment of drama. Shorn of their original arrangements, songs reveal new aspects - even when there are imperfections. The slight huskiness in tone on Audioslave’s I Am The Highway adds a touching vulnerability to some serpentine vocal twists and turns in the vocal line, lighting up a ballad which in Audioslave’s hands could sometimes sound pedestrian. ‘Scream‘’s Ground Zero translates into a piece of gritty agit-folk, all guttural fury; Soundgarden’s dark anthem Fell On Black Days becomes a delicate, almost Latin-inflected hymn to bewilderment. The latter ends with some sublime vocal acrobatics reminiscent of Cornell’s late friend Jeff Buckley, whose red telephone sat beside the singer at every show on this tour. Another ghost arrives in the shape of Johnny Cash, for whom Cornell wrote the previously unreleased Cleaning My Gun - an elegantly understated piece of American gothic which the country legend never got around to recording.
Complemented by a few hand-picked covers - John Lennon’s Imagine, Led Zeppelin’s Thank You - and the studio version of new acoustic ballad The Keeper, Songbook is an extraordinary testament to the work of a great songwriter and showcases just how versatile a talent Cornell has become. Joining the dots between past achievements, it also opens up the way to the future. May it burn every bit as bright.
- Clare O'Brien
Songbook is released in Full on Monday, November 21 worldwide, See chriscornell.com for buy links.