We’ll start of this month’s column by clearing the air. The reboot of both the BandTogether and AlbumDrop columns comes after nearly a year hiatus. That’s just plain irresponsibility on my part of course but that also speaks to just how much I’ve become disenfranchised with some of the work my favorite artists are doing. I can’t write a column on music if I hear no new music that I feel like actually listening to. So why the change?
Chris Cornell. If you’ve never heard of Chris Cornell before don’t feel bad. As lead singer of the Soundgarden and Audioslave bands he cut his teeth on rock. I’ll be honest with you guys. I’m not too into rock, and his past work so this month we won’t be focusing all that much on his background. What we will focus on is the essence of being a musical artist and not just a pop star.
During Microsoft’s MVP Summit back in February I got an opportunity to talk to an entire wealth of people of all different tastes and backgrounds. Since the event is covered by a non-disclosure agreement I can’t acknowledge them here, but I can say that without that person I would have missed out on both Chris Cornell and covering music for the site. While our meeting was in a lull I leaned over and asked her what she was listening to. She thought for a second and then mentioned Chris without any further hesitation. “His vocals are great!” I figured I’d check it out when I got back to my hotel room; but I never got the chance to. Fast forward to March. As anyone who has met me, checked out my Zune card, or heard my car’s speakers from the down the street, I am a huge fan of producer Timbaland. The complicated high-hats and interesting concepts that he uses amaze me nearly every listen. However what does not amaze me is his lackluster microphone skills. This man can create magic with a drum & beat machine, but his lyrics are the stuff nursery rhymes are made of. Imagine my amazement when I stumble upon a link in the Zune Marketplace to an album he produced for Christ Cornell last year. Why not listen? If it’s bad I can just move on.
True fans of Cornell for the most part will tell you how his work with his previous bands is superior to his solo work. They’ll weave fabulous motifs about how band music is the best thing to compliment his strong voice. They would be fools. While you should certainly check out his music with Soundgadren, and Audioslave, 2009’s “Scream” perfectly demonstrates the difference between labels like “Singer” or “rapper” and “artist”. The fourteen track album lends credence to ideals of what main stream music should be: A little of everything. “Part of Me”, “Time”, “Sweet Revenge”, and “Get Up” are all fast paced club tunes, it’s as simple as that. It isn’t until the album’s title track “Scream” that you realize the brilliance of the albums concept. Cornell nails the vocals. They’re inspirational. Yes they are assisted by some editing and synthesizing, something I nor anyone who enjoys today’s current crop of music , are unfamiliar with. It’s not too much mind you. It’s just the right amount of post-production. Cornell isn’t the only shining star here though. Timbaland absolutely proves why he gets paid the ridiculous amount of money that he does. The music while totally synthesized emphasizes pop and rap’s fat bass, while still letting the production of the song’s background concepts set the tone. Unfortunately the next song on the track seems to sit at an odd place in the arrangement of the album. In fact out of the entire disc, I’m not a fan of it at all. It’s lyrics and melody just don’t work for me. The good news is that the duo immediately recovers with “Other Side of Town”, again matching interesting sounds, with great vocal and lyrical performances by Cornell. Best of all it’s got the signature hallmark of a Timbaland produced track, “yeah” murmurs permeate the entire three minutes. This song then perfectly begins to bleed into Scream’s next five star track. “Climbing the Walls” is amazing. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. It’s a must listen. Suddenly though, the album finishes with solid performances from both artist and producer. “Watch Out” gets your heart pumping one last time while “Two Drink Minimum” acts as the albums’ closing ballad.
In essence it to me really isn’t just the lyrics, or production, or singing that captures the imagination of true music lovers here. It’s the symbolism. It’s both Timbaland and Chris Cornell saying in a not so subtle way to take the boxes you’ve placed them in, and eat them for breakfast. It’s the combination of what makes different types of music, coming together to weave a giant wicker basket of flavorful and sometimes over the top tracks. In short my fellow music enthusiasts it’s simply awesome.