Throughout his enviable career, Chris Cornell has always enjoyed taking his music in different directions. Whether blazing the trail for the grunge movement with Soundgarden, fronting rock supergroup Audioslave or releasing solo albums, Cornell was always experimenting with his artistic expression. Though at times his experiments failed, such as his ill-conceived collaboration with Timbaland, even at his worst Cornell’s music had one nugget of redemption: that voice.
Cornell has the most distinctive voice of his generation, with his oft-imitated closed-off delivery, smooth baritone and impossibly high screams. Along with his trademark alternate tunings, Cornell’s vocals can instantly transform any melody into a classic. For that reason, Songbook is the solo album Cornell was born to make and is his best album since 1999’s Euphoria Morning.
Songbook is a true solo album, recorded live with Cornell and his acoustic guitar alone onstage. The stripped down sound gives more weight to his soulful vocals and allows classic songs to be reinvented. The track list is comprised of songs throughout Cornell’s extensive catalog, including songs with Soundgarden, Audioslave and Temple of the Dog, solo songs and two covers.
The true test of a song is how good it sounds stripped down to its bones, and with the exception of “Doesn’t Remind Me,” each song surpasses expectations. The bluesy ode to sobriety “As Hope and Promise Fade” becomes a powerful acoustic anthem. Hit “Black Hole Sun” sounds even more ominous as a ballad. Though it’s fascinating to hear Cornell’s old songs take on new life, the album’s finest moments are two new songs, a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Thank You” and the previously unreleased “Cleaning My Gun.”
Though best known for loud rock numbers, Cornell’s talents are never clearer than on Songbook. His full-throated screams echo through the auditorium while his the vibrato in his gentle crooning caresses the audience. After experimenting with Timbaland and Audioslave, Cornell has finally found the perfect music for his post-Soundgarden career.