Following a gig with Soundgarden in Detroit on 16th May 2017, vocalist Chris Cornell passed away. The cause of his death in the hours that followed remained a mystery. At only 52 years of age, Chris potentially had a lot more to give, both in his songwriting and powerful sense of performance, both on record and in the live setting.
Chris Cornell came to worldwide prominence as frontman with Seattle rock band Soundgarden after the release of their 1991 album ‘Badmotorfinger’. Released eight years after the band’s formation, two other full length albums and two EP’s, the album was both musically broader and more confident than anything the band had committed to tape previously. Grungy riffs, classic rock throwbacks and occasionally psychedelic jams came together to make a bold record, now considered a genre masterpiece. Central to everything was Chris Cornell’s voice; at one time a bluesy belt, at others, a piercing scream…and often within minutes of each other. Few vocalists emergiug from the late eighties or early nineties could claim to have the power, range or classic rock appeal of this man, even if there were anti-grunge classic rock fans who refused to acknowledge this fact at the time. The same year found Cornell fronting Temple of The Dog, a one off collaboration with the surviving members of Mother Love Bone, whose sole album was the perfect tribute to their mutual friend, Andrew Wood. The album, by turns rocky and bluesy was a bitter-sweet affair, but many of its songs allowed Cornell to show the more retro, seventies bent to his vocal range; something which would certainly colour the next two Soundgarden albums.
Over the next three years, Soundgarden’s star was forever on the ascent. Both 1994’s ‘Superunkown’ and 1996’s ‘Down On The Upside’ pushed further towards classic rock influences, whether the former’s Black Sabbath obsessed ‘Mailman’, the latter’s neo-psych ‘Burden In My Hand’ or even the garage rock inflected ‘No Attention’. Every time, Cornell gave a hundred percent to his art, his distinctive voice as powerful as any power chords or riffs his band threw his way. There was far more interest in these “glory years” than the hit single ‘Black Hole Sun’ and it’s heavy rotation, in the days when MTV actually showed music videos.
Following Soundgarden’s split in 1997, Chris moved on to other projects. He began an on and off solo career that allowed him to experiment further, first with 1999’s ‘Euphoria Morning’, a retro affair that wandered nearer to psychedelia and 60s influences than Soundgarden ever had. While the album didn’t always work, the live shows which followed found Cornell in superb form. His only UK show at that time, at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire, where backed by members of cult Seattle band Eleven, he explored various bits from his back catalogue in front of an utterly enthralled audience.
The new millennium found Cornell teaming up with three quarters of Rage Against The Machine. Across three albums between 2001-2007, this was a supergroup that proved the whole isn’t always greater than the sum of its parts, but each album contained a few classics, while Chris remained on good form throughout, often getting to push the bluesier side of his voice to the fore, as he had with Temple of The Dog. Audioslave reunited for a one-off performance in 2017 at a rally protesting against Donald Trump’s Presidential inauguration.
Subsequent solo work didn’t always get across the board critical acclaim or approval from fans (the r’n’b influenced ‘Scream’ album from 2009 seems somewhat bewildering considering Cornell’s other works), but showed he was never afraid to move into new musical pastures. This open-mindedness combined with his great voice had scored him the ultimate media gig when he performed the theme to the 2006 James Bond film ‘Casino Royale’. With David Arnold’s orchestration, ‘You Know My Name’ fused the old fashioned bombast of ‘Thunderball’ with Cornell’s own rock interests. In many ways, it’s the perfect twenty first century Bond theme.
In 2010, the members of Soundgarden set aside their differences and reunited. A career retrospective, ‘Telephantasm’ set the Knights of the Soundtable on their road to glory once more, with the band entering the studio the following year. The resulting album, ‘King Animal’ was considered a very welcome return and a vital addition to the band’s catalogue. Various live shows that year showed that the band were as strong as ever musically, with Cornell in good voice. A festival headline show at London’s Hyde Park captured Soundgarden in a particularly blistering mood. Pulling material from right across their career, they were much tighter than they’d been at any point on their final tour of their original lifespan.
At the time of Chris Cornell’s death, Soundgarden were working on a new studio album. Reports suggest that six songs had been completed.
Chris had the best voice to emerge from the Seattle scene. Period.
Not only that, but one of the best voices of his generation. A huge belt of a voice that could rival any of the great performers of the 1970s. It was a classic rock voice to end all classic rock voices.
He was loved by rock fans and his peers. He even endeared himself to others further afield. On the morning following his passing, Sir Elton John said that Cornell was “a great singer, songwriter and the loveliest man.”
With a heavy heart, Real Gone takes a look at some of his greatest achievements below.