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]