2016-03-15

Album Review: Chris Cornell - Carry On

Chris Cornell's "Carry On" album
Image courtesy Wikipedia.org

I bought Chris Cornell's 1998 solo album, Euphoria Morning, and was so disappointed that it wasn't a Soundgarden album that I never gave it a fair chance. I sold my copy of it without ever having really listened to it carefully. Years later, I bought a second copy and was blown away by what I'd missed before. Right then and there I swore that I would never rush to judgment of another Chris Cornell album ever again.

This advice served me well through Cornell's tenure with Audioslave - to this day, I think I'm the only person who still really loves their final album, Revelations - but the idea didn't really face a significant challenge until Cornell released his second full-length solo album, Carry On, in 2007.

Carry On is a challenging album for Chris Cornell fans because, to my ears, it is so badly produced. I understand that the album was intended to have more of an acoustic singer-songwriter vibe than Cornell's previous work, but the album simply has no meat. It's impossible to hear the kick drum. Every track isn't just dry, it's sterile. It's as though the album ran out of budget when it came time to add reverb. This could have been a stylistic choice, an attempt to hearken back to the early days of recording, when people didn't rely so much on technology. Unfortunately, the album doesn't have the benefit of having been recorded in a legendary Motown recording studio on all-analogue equipment. The truth is, this is the album that finally made me realize how far audio production standards had fallen.

It's a shame, too, because the songs themselves are well-written. "No Such Thing" has long been a favorite Cornell song of mine, thanks to the powerful and highly philosophical lyrics. "My Poison Eye" is a song that could easily have appeared on a Soundgarden album. The album garnered a lot of attention for its version of the Michael Jackson classic "Billie Jean," for which Cornell makes the clever choice of changing the song's time signature while leaving the rest of the song mostly intact.

The performances, too, are strong. Although Cornell's voice had begun to show its age by 2007, what he'd lost in metal screaminess he more than made up for in technique. So we encounter songs like "Ghosts," which demonstrates the mind-boggling levels of vocal control Cornell has always had, and continues to have, across the full breadth of his range. From what I can hear of the drums, they sound pleasant and musical. The album boasts no less than five different guitar players, all of whom recorded their parts admirably well.

But the album has no energy, no spark, no juice, and the blame in my opinion rests completely on the shoulders of the producers. It is a special kind of blunder to start with fourteen extremely well-written songs performed by the best vocalist of his generation supported by an army of the best session musicians, and spit out a tinny, meatless, dry, flat album.

Thus, as good as the songs are, this album is destined to be relegated to the back corners of the CD collections of only the most dedicated Cornell fans.