Chris Cornell – Higher Truth (ALBUM REVIEW)

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cornellalbumChris Cornell has never been one to play it safe. From the innovative tunings and time signatures of Soundgarden to the bombastic arena rock of Audioslave to even the ill-fated collaboration with Timbaland, Cornell has consistently stretched himself as an artist and pushed the boundaries of his craft. On his fifth solo album, Higher Truth, Cornell pushes his songwriting into the spotlight with a largely acoustic album. While doing the acoustic Songbook tour in 2011 – which was captured on the live album of the same name – Cornell felt inspired to write more acoustic songs. The results are impressive as Higher Truth is the strongest album Cornell has released – in any of his projects – since his 1999 solo debut, Euphoria Morning.

Higher Truth is a mostly soft, mostly slow collection of coffeehouse strummers. It’s a subtle album that thrives in artistic nuance. Cornell’s vocals are usually subdued, with only brief outbursts of his patented scream. Instead, his soft, soulful croon carries most of the songs through tales of love and heartbreak. Likewise, guitar distortion and other hard rock elements appear only as flourishes, which give those powerful moments even more heft. Lyrically, Higher Truth is more straightforward than any other Cornell album. While Cornell’s lyrics – especially with Soundgarden – are usually cryptic tales masked in layers of symbolism, here Cornell is willing to plainly ask the question, “How hard can it be to rise with me each morning (“Before We Disappear”)?”

The album begins with one of its most ambitious tracks, “Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart.” The lead single seamlessly shifts between sparse banjo picking and dynamic layered sounds. Album closer “Our Time in the Universe” is similarly risky, combining electric guitars, a dancehall beat, and sitar. Some of Higher Truth’s best moments, however, are its most simplistic. In the sardonic breakup song “Murderer of Blue Skies,” Cornell sings a kiss off over minimalist fingerpicking. “I can’t wait to lead a life that you’re not in,” he sings, the vibrato in his voice hinting at a sadness beneath the stated optimism.

A few songs find Cornell coping with a lover’s betrayal in different ways. In “Let Your Eyes Wander,” he forgives her for straying. “Let your eyes wander wild and free,” he sings, “sooner or later they’ll look back to me.” In “Circling,” Cornell is more direct about wanting to win her back. “The road is long and never ends,” he sings over soft acoustic strums, “dark is the heart that wanders.” As loud distorted guitars enter during the bridge, Cornell gets more aggressive. “I’ll crawl a hundred thousand miles just to see your two eyes look me over.”

Higher Truth’s deluxe edition comes with four additional tracks, including an acoustic version of “Misery Chain” sans Joy Williams and a dance remix of “Our Time in the Universe” – a rare case where the remix surpasses the original. Stripped to an almost entirely acoustic format, Cornell’s voice becomes the focus. Long considered one of the best vocalists in rock, Cornell is now one of the best folk singers as well. His powerful voice, ranging from a deep soulful croon to a sharp, pained wail, carries more emotional resonance than any lyric. Though not as groundbreaking as a Soundgarden album or as energetic as an Audioslave record, Higher Truth is an achievement that highlights Cornell’s prowess as a vocalist and songwriter.

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4 Responses

  1. Love it!!! Love him!! The footage from the live shows so far has been so Awesome and sounds Great!!! Can’t wait to see him on this tour!!!

  2. Thanks for commenting, Tina. Soundgarden is amazing in concert but I haven’t seen Chris solo yet. I’m hoping to catch him in Tampa at the end of this month.

  3. Chris’s soulful voice has never me let me down. Well, except maybe his album “Scream,” but we don’t talk about that. This album was sentimental enough before his passing; now, it’s a legacy left behind by a musical genius and ever-hurting soul. May his soul have finally found peace. RIP Chris.

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