Chris Cornell – Euphoria Morning – Review

Chris Cornell

Euphoria Morning (A&M)
by Tim Den

It’s time to separate the men from the boys. The Real Deal from the Usual Spiel. Euphoria Morning will be the tool. “An album,” you ask? Yes, an album. A collection of songs. But not any ol’ collection of songs. Euphoria Morning is the ultimate test, with which the world will be divided into two categories: those who are merely one-dimensional music listeners, and those who truly understand the essence of note/melody interaction.

“How can that be,” you must be asking. “How is Chris Cornell different from every other singer/songwriter this side of Tin Pan Alley? What makes him a ‘man’ and the rest ‘boys’?” Where to begin, where to begin… How about the fact that Chris Cornell is simply better? Euphoria Morning, with its undeniable charisma, desperation, and playfulness, is paralleled in its “solo” brilliance only by Jason Falkner and Jeff Buckley. Plain and simple: it’s pop/rock/mopey artistic vision at its best. It distinguishes itself with in-depth production, unpredictable melodies, chameleon moods, and, of course, one man’s uncanny ability to write the most intriguing and warm vocal lines this side of Scott Joplin. And that voice: enough said. I could try to go on explaining why Cornell’s slithering-up-and-down-the-scale vocal usage is simply magical beyond compare, but I won’t. Like divinity or the origin of life, some things you just don’t question or try to explain. It’s so perfect that you don’t dare fuck with it. It just is.

But the sheer power of Euphoria Morning‘s content, although already distinguished, is not why it will become the tool of separation. That test lies in its legacy: its interpretation by the masses. With its reception, a clear view of the world will be painted: a world where some people will have no choice but to show their painfully one-dimensional faces; the “boys,” who pay attention to genres instead of composition and feel, from the “men.” More than frequently, Euphoria Morning has received comments such as “it doesn’t rock enough” or “why doesn’t he sing in his top, fifth octave pitch,” or (my favorite) “it’s too slow.” But what these members of the “boys” group do not realize, is that they’re missing the point. Either too lazy to listen to the record for what it is, or too handicapped to let go the memories of Soundgarden, these pedestrian music listeners fail to comprehend the one thing that songs are about: the songs themselves. Not loud guitars, not screaming, not constantly filled with “rock” so you can use it as an excuse to get shit-faced again (not that there’s anything wrong with the aforementioned things – there’s a place for all of that). Only the songs’ composition itself: pure, powerful, and overwhelming when done right. Listen to the bridge of “Follow My Way,” the verses of “Moonchild,” “Disappearing One,” and especially the godsent “Preaching the End of the World” (hell, make that every song). If you don’t have the understanding or simple observational skills to realize the craft at work, then you might as well stop reading now. You’re one of the hopeless. You don’t fucking listen to music. You don’t try hard enough… or you’re just dumb.

It’s easy to have pre-conceived “rock” notions like “if it’s soft and gentle, it’s cliché and/or cheesy.” But complaining that Chris Cornell, as a solo artist (Hello!!?? People go “solo” to do something different from their previous projects!!), doesn’t rock out like Soundgarden is like saying The Beatles should’ve done more blast beats. Or that Slayer should cheer up. You’re missing the fucking point. Chris Cornell’s not in Soundgarden anymore, so stop judging his solo work with “rock” standards. Chris Cornell is not out to rock. He’s out to write the best fucking songs anyone’s ever heard since Jellyfish (you fuckers probably don’t like them either. Not enough lyrics about fucking and drinking, right?), and he has succeeded. Euphoria Morning is one of the best-written art pop albums this decade, and a testament to a songwriter’s maturity and constant quality output in different genres, even if half the people listening don’t know their elbow from their asshole.

Chris Cornell, on the other hand, is bright. While many have criticized his letting his Beatles’ influence take over, that’s like saying “He’s writing wonderful, moving, dynamic songs, using every trick he can think of to craft pop gems that’ll outlive him and me and all this other shit I listen to.” That’s right, slap yourselves for being stupid.

For years now, Cornell has veered away from the power for power’s sake style. Soundgarden songs became increasingly complex and impressive musically, never losing sight of the raw emotional power needed to keep the restless masses captivated. Without becoming prog rock or any such cold, detached, pompous, boy-can-I-play, Cornell slipped tragic beauty into music usually known for its ball-crushing riffs. And he got away with with it. Critics lauded his genius, but critics don’t buy records and therefore should be distrusted. Intelligent fans lapped up the maturity of a guy who once howled like a wolf at the moon, yet realized he had quite a mid-range to explore. And the common folk? Hell, who cares why the Pearl-Jam-now-Creed-loving dolts bought the record? They did, it encouraged Cornell to continue on his golden path, and hopefully the fans realized they were encountering something with far more integrity than Bush and other genre-jumping money-grubbers. Cornell, perhaps like Bowie in a way, creates, and others follow. So if Euphoria Morning proves the commercial success it should, we’ll be inundated by half-assed “artists” milking frail tears from the rock. And while most of it’ll be crap, hell, it’s better than the ever-constricting genres surrounding it – rock built on rock, ska inspired by ska, punk weaned on punk, metal based on a single metal riff, and on and on. Cornell is at least letting his pop-loving winky dangle for all to see, and he’s dug back to the days when bands had to have songs on their records, or the Perry Como generation label execs wouldn’t release it. Euphoria Morning is a return to the swelling movement of a song, the subtle build-up using “uncommon” instruments and sounds to achieve a diverse, worldly, instinctively trustworthy sound.

And the voice, my God, the voice! Unlike the distinctive yet mildly irritating yowl of his early material, Cornell has learned to harness The Beast and let the fucker bay at moon-drenched skies when appropriate, yet rumble in his chest like a choked-back sob when that’s appropriate. Like moderately successful attempts by rock/metal singers Axl and Halford, Cornell is stretching his wings, now that we all know he can stretch his lungs. Why prove yet again what you’ve already proven? And unlike Whitney Houston and the whole new breed of silver-lunged mutants, Cornell conveys passion where they only convey vocal talent. Perhaps it helps to write your own fuckin’ songs, huh?

Regardless, Chris Cornell has bestowed upon us a masterpiece of beautifully-crafted pop gems unlike any other of the late ’90s. While greatly reminiscent of the Beatles’ artful work, The Voice has magic distinctively its own. He began the decade as a flannel-wearing grunge pioneer (not knowing that that Westward movement would be corporatized by profit leeches like the Gap), and he exited it as one of the most respected, risk-taking songwriters to come down the pike in some time. Get this record, feel your heart ache and your knees tremble, and be impressed by the quality of musicianship that can come from a skinny, formerly shaggy-headed rocker in the final throes of the 20th century.