A few months ago, before this album's scheduled release dated was pushed from late 2008 to March '09, we had the following to say about it:
We don't care if Timbaland used to go record shopping with Mark Arm, roadied for Tad, or cooked up smack with Layne Stayley using one of Artis' spoons, he has helped Chris Cornell squander whatever fan-based goodwill he had left. Period.
Gen-X, you now have your own version of Rod Stewart. [shudder]
We stand by that review, but now on the occasion of its actual release we thought we'd amplify our response to this monstrosity.
In certain circles, Creedence Clearwater Revival's swan song,
Mardi Gras [Fantasy-1972] is considered the worst studio album ever released by an artist of certain significance. Well, now it clearly has stiff competition. With Scream, Chris Cornell has unequivocally tossed his hat into this rarefied ring, but at least he's battling it out with legends, huh?
Much has been written about the former Soundgarden/Audioslave frontman's solo outing number three, produced by noted modern day R&B producer Timbaland. It's almost universally negative. And while whatever defenders this record may have will want to blame a close-mined audience for the backlash, it's a bit more complicated than that, even if there is a tiny sliver of validity to their position.
You see, back in 1999--yes, Cornell's been a solo artist almost as long as Soundgarden were around--his debut album Euphoria Morning was met with modest sales and the disappointment of quite a few of his former band's followers, who were obviously expecting a retread of Superunknown [A&M-1994], or something. We praised the album, found it to be a natural progression from the work he'd done with his previous band, and noted how those who were surprised by it had not been paying attention to the evolution of Cornell's songwriting over the last few Soundgarden records. So, yeah, there is something to the people-can-be-intolerant-to-changes-in-an-artist's-musical-path argument. But after Carry On, 2007's mediocre followup to Euphoria Morning--with its limp, misguided cover of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean"--all bets were off.
Of course, a collaboration between a grunge-era icon and the likes of Timbaland was gonna raise eyebrows; that's a given. But it's not the portended and now-realized car-crash outcome of the album that's worriesome--it's the steps taken there. It's the emptiness of Carry On, the touring with Linkin Park; working with Timbaland without a substantive artistic goal; the joining of forces with the likes of Justin Timberlake and John Mayer; and finally, the clumsy symbolism of smashing a guitar--his former musical self?--on the cover of this new album; all of which come across as the acts of man hell-bent on burning, no, blowing up the bridges to his past. Yes, nostalgia can be deadly for an artist wanting to move forward, but was THIS really the best alternate route?!
In the end, the problem is not at all that Cornell chose to make a contemporary R&B record, it's that Scream is assembly-line,
Pussycat Dolls/Britney Spears-type tripe of the most uninspired kind. Perhaps if he'd chosen to further explore the inklings of old-school R&B found on "When I'm Down" and "Wave Goodbye",
from Euphoria, we might've gotten something interesting this time. Instead we're left pondering the motives and intentions of a major talent, one who is perilously close to dismantling years of hard-earned popularity and acclaim over baffling decisions and half-assed musical attempts at reinvention. Forgive us for the melodrama, but in these times of musical bankruptcy it's a tough blow to witness someone of this stature pointlessly fritter away a career of note for some ill-conceived stab at who knows what. Talk about a mid-life crisis...
Strike two, man.