18 November 2015
Chris Cornell - Higher Truth
This album really arrived with very little fanfare or warning, the first I heard about it was a review in a Mojo magazine. No press beforehand, no posts on any feed, it is truly a soft launch if ever I saw one. Christopher John Boyle (AKA Chris Cornell) is a man who can be an enigma to me - when I first saw Soundgarden supporting Guns 'N' Roses many years ago it was one of those performances which changed my opinion on music (as well as the performance from Faith No More afterwards). I had not seen a band as close to the edge, but still so in control that they thrived in the chaos. With Audioslave, I found very little that I liked about it - the music just didn't reach me in the way that Soundgarden does, however Mrs Carter is a huge Audioslave fan and prefers them to Soundgarden - so what do I know. His solo career has been, how can I say it, it has been patchy if I am honest for me - there has been beautiful moments such as the cover of "Billie Jean" and "You Know My Name", there has been brave moments of trying something different which did not quite work out for the public (yep, I am talking about 'Scream' - but at least he went with his feels and whilst it is not something for me, at least he created something for himself); but this album has just crept under the radar and he is now touring with it. I like the fact it was just placed out there, it is an unusual move in this world of instant downloads and months of pre-release/leaks/early release. It join Mr Cornell with producer Brendan O'Brien who produced 'Superunknown' with Soundgarden and 'Revelations' with Audioslave; now I will go over the songs how I find them now and afterwards I will give my initial impression, but till then we will commence the show.
Starting off the album is "Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart" which slowly build from mandolins, acoustic guitar and a gentle, yet forceful piece of music as Chris Cornell tells his tale of woe to the audience. The song demands patience from the listener as it does not give up everything straight away, but it does have a charm that comes with time. It also lays the pattern for the album and anyone expecting either more 'Scream' or down tuned rock will be disappointed, but after 'Songbook' I think it is obvious how Mr Cornell is focusing his career - this is as good as anything else from his solo work for me. "Dead Wishes" reminds me of an alternative take on the work of Newton Faulkner and his earlier albums; it gently roams around as it reaches its conclusion with a building chorus that suits Mr Cornell's vocals very well. It takes its highs from the quite moments to add contrast to the chorus and it is very effective, which once more takes more than a few listens to sink in for the listener. "Worried Moon" goes for the same pattern as the earlier song, gentle introductions, wounded vocals that sound as if fear is in the very core of the song and a performance that takes longer to reveal what it is about. It is a nice enough tune which floats by with a charm, but it is not rocking the boat or changing the focus of this album. The fourth song is called "Before We Disappear" which starts with a piano and whilst it is still a slow burner of a number, it at least has something different going on for the song. It pulls on the emotional heart strings which seems to be the calling card of this record, once more it also takes it sweet time revealing itself to the audience; however it is one of the highlights of the record with a hook that keeps you repeating the song once it has sunk in.
Next is "Through the Window" and is a wistful number that follows the pattern of the first quarter of the album; it is not a song that grabs you on the first listen and it takes a few listens to reveal its charms. It is a gentle as a breeze and very sentimental as well, depending on where you stand on that type of song may well make up your mind for the album. It is very typical of this record and a song which I think will sound better live than it does on this record. "Josephine" is another love song asking for a lady to marry the singer and to make a home with him. It has a string backing and it is all very pleasant once again; it is also over sentimental for me and whilst I appreciate the meaning behind the song and the performance, I do not warm to it at all - once again I feel it will work better live and without the strings if I am honest. "Murder of Blue Skies" however does deviate from this pattern which has form the best percentage of this album. For one thing, there is an electric guitar, there is a piano and it all mixes together with a set of lyrics that could be either viewed as cynical or truthful. The song is about wanting to have someone out of your life who is clearly a bad influence and will only cause trouble; part of me wonders why he did not cut this person loose beforehand, but that is just me. Out of all the songs on the album it is the one which offers the most, it is the one which I feel is presented right and it is one that will work just as well with Mr Cornell on his own. Basically, it is the best all-rounder on the album. After this we have the title track "Higher Truth" which comes across as an Elton John song in disguise, it has a classic rock element to the sound and it is performed very well. Now as you can tell from the blurb at the top of each blog, Elton John is not a bad thing for us at ATTIWLTMOWOS. It is another song which has a full band going on, it adds a depth to the record which was missing and is another good moment for this record, something that has been sorely lacking in parts of this album.
"Let Your Eyes Wander" is back to the acoustic best, it is built upon the simple strumming of the guitar and plucking of strings. The lyrics about love are average for the album, neither sickly nor exciting in any great form and the music is average even when other instruments come in towards the end of the song. "Only These Words" is conflicted - the guitar is quite happy and fast paced and the vocal delivery and words are in conflict with that. The vocals are as flawless as usual, but it seems to be sang to a different song to these ears. By the end of the song it sort of gels together, but it is still not quite right to these ears even after many plays. The penultimate song of the album is called "Circling" which sorts of does what it says on the tin - it circles around you without really doing anything good or bad. It is alright, but could it have been more? Probably not if I am honest, it feels like a finished product but it is so average it would be hard to pick out of a crowd to be honest. Ending the album (the bonus/deluxe version of this album has another FOUR tracks) "Our Time In The Universe" which has a funky drum beat that mixes in middle eastern influences to the percussion, bring in more style than the last three song combined and whilst that is not hard, it is nice that this album is ending on a high point. It has energy, a passionate performance and a spark that is sadly lacking in certain sections of this record.
This album is designed to focus on Chris Cornell the acoustic crooner and it more or less hits that mark, but it also shows a frailty to his work which is that too much of one type of much is not a good thing. This album is well played, Chris Cornell is still one of my favourite singers ever and that opinion has not been altered here as he still nails a few of these songs as well as he did with anything in Audioslave, Soundgarden or any of his other solo outings. But there is a quality control issue here, the album in its standard form is four tracks too long at best, there is too many songs which can be replaced with another song of the album and it feels as if some of these will be much better when you hear them live. It is not a bad album by any stretch of the imagination, it is also not a very important one either and because of this it is slightly frustrating. That said, it is still better than 'Scream'.
5.5 out of ten - It could have been a bit better
Top track - Murder of Blue Skies
You can stream Higher Truth on Amazon here
You can visit the Chris Cornell website here
You can follow the activities of Chris Cornell on Facebook here
You can stream the deluxe version of Higher Truth on Spotify here
You can stream the deluxe version of Higher Truth on Deezer here
You can stream the deluxe version of Higher Truth on Tidal here
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