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September 10, 2007 | by  | in Music |
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Chris Cornell – Carry On

“Maybe to lose or to save your soul is just a choice of how you fill the hole.”

Chris Cornell is one of the few truly great rock vocalists, with his penchant for hitting notes in full voice that other male singers only dare attempt in falsetto. A voice at once both warm and harsh, like something wary which has just crawled out of the desert night. Sadly, since the roaring, screaming yet gorgeously precise Soundgarden split up, his accompanying music has been decidedly average. Euphoria Morning was a touching attempt to recreate the sound of then-recently-deceased friend Jeff Buckley, but it didn’t allow him to really soar. Audioslave were, well, okay, but ultimately empty, like they just didn’t gel.

On Carry On, Cornell made the startling choice to play not hard rock but sun-drenched, heavy, rock-inflected pop music, with an occasional brass section, strings and all the baubles – and it pays off. The chugging, resonating bass on opening track “No Such Thing” tricks you into thinking he’s about to attempt hard rock – but it soon washes into clear, restrained pop, with the few moments of overdriven riffing that pepper the album acting as a garnish.

Cornell veers from invoking Aretha Franklin on “She’ll Never Be Your Man” – where the “mm-hmm” inflection in his voice makes him sound like a large black chick with her hand on her hip, tut-tutting you for fooling yourself – to ramshackle Darcy Clay country hooks on “Your Soul Today”, to George Harrison-esque balladry. “Killing Birds” uses surprisingly successful light electronic drumming and sparse guitar work, giving his voice an open reign to soar. And soar it does – Cornell’s recent rejection of cigarettes and heavy drinking is immediately apparent.

The most starling moment comes from a cover of “Billy Jean”, in which Cornell heightens the spooky melodrama of Michael Jackson’s original with a tick-tocking picking pattern, slowly building to a crescendo of flourishes and vocal acrobatics. Each chorus comes to a screaming halt as the drummer hammers it into submission through a rapid-fire percussion shot, before allowing it to build up once more.

Pleasingly, a number of lyrical motifs from Soundgarden – nothingness, dead birds and a curious approach to suicide – are reprised. While the incredible glory of that band, where every individual fed off one another and turned simple riffs on their head, is unlikely to ever come again, Carry On works to showcase Cornell’s vocal ability to perfection.

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Tristan Egarr edited in 2008. He threw a chair once.

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