Carry On (Suretone/Interscope)
by Tim Den
After fronting by far the most adventurous and rewarding of the grunge giants, making millions with the (much maligned) supergroup Audioslave, and – most importantly – proving that he had the songwriting chops of a fucking GOD on his own with Euphoria Morning, Chris Cornell seemed unstoppable. Sure, I disliked Audioslave as much as older Soundgarden fans, but even I couldn’t deny the power of “Like a Stone.” Cuz, come on, the dude just knows how to pen left-of-center hooks that’re clever yet surprising. But when he came up with “You Know My Name” for Casino Royale last year, something was awry, It wasn’t that he’d completely sold out and started mimicking Nickelback or that power ballads became the name of his game, rather it was something vaguer: Within the muscular grooves and Cornell’s trademark howl, there seemed to be a hollowness. A hollowness that said, “The fire that used to live here is no more. Its shadows still dance on the walls, but the ingenuity, vigor, and enthusiasm are nowhere to be found.” To the untrained ear, it might sound as if Cornell’s still just doing his Rock God thing and succeeding. But to those of us who were attracted to Soundgarden in the first place because of the underlying darkness, I’m sorry to report that it’s no longer there.
Carry On is precise, polished, full of radio-friendly anthems as well as a few quirky gems. “Poison Eye” has got interesting structure and chord progressions, “Arms Around Your Love” is easily digestible but packs a gorgeous chorus, yet neither (or anything else on the album, in fact) hits your soul the way “Fresh Tendrils” did. Why? Perhaps first single, “No Such Thing,” is a good example: Cornell wants to remain your Rock God, and to do so, he knows he’s gotta play it safe. There’s the predictable (but never too risky) “crunchy” guitars, plasticized tempo, and easy-to-sing-along-to chorus, but where’s the emotion? It sounds as if Cornell is just going through the motions, hitting the pre-requisite “radio rock” marks and calling it a day. Listen to Superunknown and you’ll hear psychosis, turbulence, and redemption; listen to Carry On, and you will hear the swooning of mid-30s corporate lawyers. This is not music that enters your heart, it’s merely an evening of yuppies raising their cell phones in the air, and then immediately forgetting the music’s impact the next day. I hate to say it, but Carry On is the perfect example of what happens when a songwriter’s craft outlives his desire.
Cornell once wrote a line I always thought was one of the most beautiful things I had ever read/heard. Somehow, I think it’s appropriate to use it to close this review: “You lived like a murder but you died just like suicide.”