is sure to be derided for the wrong reasons. Teaming up with top-flight hip-hop producer Timbaland
for the album, the former Soundgarden
frontman will undoubtedly be mocked as a sellout who has traded away his soul and comprised his integrity for a slick pop makeover. But the ambitious Scream
isn’t a noble misfire because Cornell decided to work with Timbaland – it’s because the collaboration isn’t nearly as rewarding as it should be.
Grunge Godfather Seeks a Makeover
Ever since Soundgarden broke up in 1997, Cornell has struggled to find the same level of success that he enjoyed with the legendary Seattle group. Working with Rage Against the Machine
’s instrumentalists in Audioslave, he managed to recapture some of the old magic, but his solo albums – particularly 2007’s Carry On
– suggested a songwriter whose muse had abandoned him. Enlisting Timbaland, who did a similar reinvention of folkie Nelly Furtado
into a pop tart, Cornell clearly wants to push himself creatively and try on a new sonic identity. Ideally then, Scream
would place Cornell’s soulful presence within the dramatic, accessible musical framework of Timbaland’s savvy production, much like Liz Phair did with the Matrix on her 2003 self-titled crossover album. Unfortunately, rather than a merging of different strengths, Scream
feels like a Timbaland project that features Cornell on lead vocals.
Ambitious Concept, So-So Songs
Cornell and Timbaland have designed Scream
so that there are no gaps between songs, creating a seamless album meant to be heard from beginning to end with no breaks. It’s an ambitious idea, one that recalls classic-rock concept albums like Pink Floyd
’s Dark Side of the Moon
, but beyond the crafty sonic coloring, the approach adds little to the actual quality of the individual songs. While Timbaland helps to enliven Cornell’s gloomy relationship tunes with drum machines and swirling keyboards, the truth is there’s only so much studio fussing you can do with inherently mediocre tunes.
Timbaland Pulls Out His Bag of Tricks ... Predictably
Hardcore rock fans may be thrown off by the flashy, dance-ready sounds of Scream
, but those accustomed to Timbaland’s work with Justin Timberlake
will feel like they’re experiencing musical déjà vu. On “Never Far Away,” the melody and beat blatantly recall Timberlake’s “What Goes Around ... Comes Around.” Then on the next track, “Take Me Alive,” Timbaland utilizes the now-familiar Middle Eastern rhythms that have become part of his sound and brings Timberlake on for a cameo. Ironically, “Take Me Alive” does come closest to feeling like a “Chris Cornell song” on Scream
– he’s enjoyed wielding a mystical-mysterious vibe on Soundgarden albums like Badmotorfinger
– but too often on this record Cornell seems at the mercy of Timbaland’s gimmicks, like the producer’s trademark whick-a-whick
vocal tics and spoken-word interludes. Granted, Scream
feels strikingly different from any previous Chris Cornell album, but beyond the lack of noticeable aural trademarks – namely, grunge-heavy guitars – it’s hard to locate his emotional essence in these songs. Rather than being reinvigorated by Timbaland, Cornell mostly sounds like a hired gun.
Chris Cornell's 'Scream' - Bottom Line
ultimately is a misfire, it certainly is a fascinating one. No matter the setting, Cornell’s exceptional voice remains a thing of beauty, and it’s fun to hear Timbaland accentuate the singer’s anguish in “Long Gone” and “Scream” with supple studio trickery, weaving guitars, strings and keyboards into the mix. (Although, again, “Long Gone” has a slight similarity to Timberlake’s “My Love.”) But the audacity of this unlikely partnership, while initially exciting and novel, eventually doesn’t add up to enough fruitful music. Cornell’s old-school fans will complain that Scream
isn’t a rock album, but that’s not the problem – the problem is that it’s not much of pop record, either.
Best 'Scream' Tracks:
“Long Gone” (Purchase/Download
“Climbing Up the Walls” (Purchase/Download
“Never Far Away” (Purchase/Download
“Take Me Alive” (Purchase/Download
Release date – March 10, 2009
Interscope Records/Mosley Music Group