Chris Cornell: 1964 - 2017
The unexpected loss of Chris Cornell is a blow from which many in the rock community will struggle to recover.
The magnificent body of work Cornell helped create with Soundgarden – and supergroup Temple Of The Dog – was nothing short of integral to '90s rock. Releases like Badmotorfinger and Superunknown are not only as defining a part of the Seattle canon as Nirvana’s Nevermind and Pearl Jam’s Ten, they also paradoxically challenged and broadened the very definition of grunge. Cornell’s work helped pave the way for many bands today, with acts as diverse as Alter Bridge, The Dillinger Escape Plan and The Pretty Reckless finding key parts of their musical identity in their output. Indeed, it is telling that even some of music’s titans found inspiration in his songwriting, no more so than when the late Johnny Cash opted to cover Soundgarden’s 1991 classic track Rusty Cage.
That Cornell made a name for himself is no surprise. Put simply, his voice was both unmistakable and unforgettable. It is the thing that first springs to mind when remembering him: the sheer range of it. It was – and still is – hard to believe that the same man wailing out at the end of Spoonman on Superunknown was the same one delivering such tender, Beatles-esque serenity on Black Hole Sun just one track before.
But Cornell was many other things besides a formidable vocalist. Cornell was a brilliant – and brilliantly misanthropic – lyricist. Throughout his career, his protracted battle with depression was confronted with a combination of poetic intensity, wisdom, honesty, grace and even humour. In Outshined’s lyrics of ‘I’m looking California and feeling Minnesota’ he found a way not only to capture his own personal feeling, but the mood of an entire generation.
If there is one regard in which he certainly did not receive enough recognition it was in his work as a guitarist. The off-kilter riffs he composed with Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil were not just thrilling to hear, they were incredible to watch. Truly, it must have required a breathtaking degree of skill to hit those vocal notes while his fingers wrangled with a procession of intricate, warped and tangled riffs.
Who he became after the 1997 dissolution of Soundgarden was just as arresting. If anything his creativity only blossomed. His solo career was defined by adventurousness – his 1999 solo debut Euphoria Morning repositioned him as a singer-songwriter in the mould of Jeff Buckley, a side of him that had, in truth, been present in work as early as Seasons on the 1992 Singles movie soundtrack.
In 2001, he formed Audioslave with members of Rage Against The Machine – rattling off three albums in quick succession before they called it a day. It was a project that gave him a bigger stage on which to prove himself and he did just that. In songs like Cochise, Like A Stone and Wide Awake he proved that his days of making titanic rock songs were not in the past. From there, he seemed to enjoy the freedom of taking his career wherever he wanted, be that recording one of the best Bond songs ever in the form of Casino Royale’s You Know My Name or collaborating with Timbaland for an R’n’B album on Scream.
The 2011 reunion of Soundgarden brought things full circle: onstage and in interviews, he seemed like a man fully exploring his potential to do whatever he wanted musically, be it in a group or as a solo artist. Odd as it is to say for someone who had commanded stages for over a quarter of a century, he was still getting better onstage. Last year, performing at the Royal Albert Hall, in front of a crowd that included Jimmy Page, he was a hilarious and enchanting figure, whether bemoaning himself for always writing miserable songs or bringing music from across his long, storied career to life in exquisite form.
Today, one of rock’s greatest ever voices has been silenced, but his legacy will always speak volumes.
Everyone at Music Week would like to express their deepest condolences to Chris Cornell’s family, friends and all his associates across the music industry.