Meet Someone Else Who Doesn’t Doesn’t Care For The Chris Cornell Record

Sep 30th, 2008 // 22 Comments

It’s not even that New Yorker critic Sasha Frere-Jones dislikes the Chris Cornell/Timbaland collaboration Scream. He seems disappointed by it, vexed that someone he idolized let him down.

When an article that’s ostensibly an album review begins with four long paragraphs about the producer’s background, you can tell that producer is someone special, worth noting, Frere-Jones brings out all the descriptors for Timbaland’s work: “fervid, breathtaking”; “silvery, weightless”; and this stunning, yet likely accurate sentence:

When you hear a rhythm that is being played by an instrument you can’t identify but wish you owned, when you hear a song that refuses to make up its mind about its genre but compels you to move, or when you hear noises that you thought couldn’t find a comfortable place in a pop song, you are hearing Timbaland, or school thereof.

In comparison, Chris Cornell–the guy whose name is on the album–is worthy of one paragraph that doesn’t mention his most recent group, Audioslave, but commends him for having the vision to collaborate with Timbaland, referring to the decision as “a smart move.” But then the album is listened to, and disappointment sets in. Very little about the album pleases Frere-Jones, but one track in particular seemed to be the tipping point.

“Never Far Away” could be one of the worst songs of the year, a rock ballad with all the bombast of Soundgarden yet with none of the heft or the force. The lyrics are like Bon Jovi with the fun sucked out, and could be moonlighting for an e-greeting-card site: “You are the road that I will travel, you are the words I write. You are the ocean I will swallow, you are the wind I ride.” Timbaland rarely puts sounds together in an infelicitous way: so why the swooping synth arpeggios? What we love about Timbaland is that so much of his music evades known templates, but figuring out what is happening on “Scream” is not, in large part, a pleasant hunt.

This might not be so surprising, considering the Cornell disc seems to be the official album of 2008 for writers to kick around like an old Baden playground ball. But when Frere-Jones seems so let down by one of his musical heroes, no one wins–especially those of us who will probably have to listen to Scream, if only for research purposes.

The Timbaland Era [The New Yorker]

  1. Maura Johnston

    Wait, is that really the cover? It looks like an ad for some sort of extreme-sports jean.

  2. Marth

    On the bright side, Kim Thayil’s new record with the Neptunes is supposed to be amazing!

  3. Clevertrousers

    I thought that Bon Jovi was already like Bon Jovi with the fun sucked out.

  4. Anonymous

    It’s his Play moment:


  5. Al Shipley

    Sometimes I get the feeling that SFJ doesn’t realize that all his other worshipful descriptions of Timbaland’s brilliance over the past 10 years are archived online, and that’s why he feels compelled to reiterate his point, and gear it slightly toward some specific new release, every few months.

  6. unperson

    The problem with the piece is that Frere-Jones doesn’t really like rock music, and consequently he is already hearing the album through a “WTF is Timbaland doing lowering himself to this?” preconception. N.B.: I haven’t heard it myself, and I didn’t like Cornell’s last solo album (or any Audioslave record after the debut, or any Soundgarden after Badmotorfinger) very much at all. But the mere fact that SF-J thinks “Black Hole Sun” is Soundgarden’s best song proves my argument.

  7. bcapirigi

    but does he call chris cornell a racist?

  8. Dan Gibson

    @unperson: I was stunned by that as well…”Black Hole Sun”? Really?

  9. Anonymous

    woops meant to show you this…


  10. Chris Molanphy

    @Marth: FTW.
    @Clevertrousers: FTW.

    Actually, you guys are tied. LOL.

  11. Chris Molanphy

    @Dan Gibson: Yeah, that is weird. I mean, I consider myself a total poptimist, and for me it’s “Outshined” all the way — it’s still got SG’s meatiest hook.

  12. Al Shipley

    Yeah, it’s definitely possible that SFJ has never listened to Soundgarden beyond their biggest singles if he thinks Cornell is in dire need of “needs a little weirdness,” some of their albums were packed full of non-standard time signatures and tunings and odd little touches of humor.

  13. Al Shipley

    @Al Shipley: er obviously strike one “need” from that sentence

  14. Dan Gibson

    @Al Shipley: I suppose it seems more on the ridiculous end of the spectrum now, but I would have classified “Spoonman” as at least a little weird for the time.

  15. LostTurntable

    I liked nearly everything Soundgarden put out, I loved Cornell’s first solo album and I even dug me a little bit of Audioslave (mostly the first album) but I think Cornell just committed career suicide with this move. He’s losing his hardcore fanbase forever and the pop fanbase isn’t going to embrace him for long, if at all. You think he would have learned something from the debacle of Liz Phair.

  16. jt.ramsay

    @LostTurntable: In the matter of “career suicide,” can it be murder if the victim was already dead?

  17. Anonymous

    @Al Shipley: I figured you’d be the one to ask if anybody but, to me, Soundgarden might have been one of those rare bands that performed just as well on both the Mainstream and Modern Rock chart.

  18. Al Shipley

    @2ironic4u: Yeah, they were kind of in the same situation as Alice In Chains, big on both but slightly bigger on Mainstream.

  19. DocStrange

    @Al Shipley: And you got to remember that one of Alice In Chains’ best song (“Got Me Wrong”) hit the Modern Rock Chain only because it was on the “Clerks” soundtrack.

    But each of the Big Four Seatlle Bands (Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains and Soundgarden) and the California band that ripped them off (Stone Temple Pilots) all did well on both charts.

  20. loudersoft

    Guys, can’t you just chill out on Chris Cornell and let him pretend to be Robin Thicke for five minutes?

  21. Thierry

    At least Cornell kept his pants on:

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