Yes, a Chris Cornell album this sure is. No, a rock album it is not. At least not for the most part of it. When one of the original grunge pioneers – Cornell used to front Soundgarden – announced last year that his next album was going to be produced by Grammy-winning producer and rapper Timbaland, most fans expressed emotions ranging from despair to disgust. And if you are one of those rock fans who absolutely detest the idea of music being made with drum machines and samplers, I will save you the trouble of going through the entire review: You are only going to hate Scream. On the other hand, if you are even slightly open to the idea of a mashup of electronica, dance and rock, then Cornell’s 15th studio album (and his 3rd solo record) might appeal to you.
The album opener, ‘Part of Me,’ starts off with what could pass off as a news channel theme, sitar loops and android voices, but very soon morphs into a heavy-duty dance track – shocking the wits out of you, if you were expecting a regular Chris Cornell number. While the lyrics are not his best work by far – sample these lines: “I love the girl/I’m loving the dress she wears,” “No, that bitch ain’t a part of me” – the voice is still vintage Cornell, except laid over completely different rhythms than what longtime fans would be used to. And that’s pretty much what you can look forward to on the following 13 tracks.
Cornell, in an interview to Rolling Stone India maintained that this album “is something that needs to be heard from beginning to end” and that he would ideally have released it as a single track hour-long album. And you understand the validity of his statement once you actually sit through one complete listen. Song after song, Timbaland lays down head-bobbing grooves for Cornell to sing over, with each track transitioning into the next with music rather than with the typical silence. ‘Ground Zero’ is a thumper of a track with Cornell’s vocals sounding like they could have been from his Soundgarden/Audioslave days. Ditto with the vocals on ‘Long Gone’ and ‘Climbing Up the Walls,’ both of which could make for fine rock songs – if it weren’t for the drum machines. Which is not to say that these are not fine songs otherwise. In fact, Timbaland shows us why he is one of the most sought-after and highest paid producers in the music industry today: He brings a vibrancy and danceability to the entire album.
What Cornell has managed to do with Scream, is introduce me to a kind of music I would not have checked out otherwise in all likelihood. And hopefully, Timbaland will manage to do the same with his fans – introduce them to Chris Cornell.
© Bobin James/Rolling Stone India, 2009