Music Reviews
Scream

Chris Cornell Scream

(Mosley Music/ Interscope) Buy it from Insound Rating - 0/10

A review of Chris Cornell’s dance record would seem to write itself, but only if one were content to castigate him for a rock-turncoat infraction whose grounds for condemnation seem rather antiquated and ultimately irrelevant. Addressing Scream within the “rockist” paradigm, as Dean Goodman does in his awkwardly gracious spiel (titled “Chris Cornell’s dance album dismays rock fans,”) for Cornell’s defensive Reuters interview, serves only to disguise the real blunders at heart of this project. The problem with Scream stems not from the mere fact that Cornell has taken a stylistic gamble that rock purists “just can’t believe,” but that he did so in a fashion that is so thoroughly phony, unexcited, and half-assed.

Scream is not so much a disaster as a wet, lazy fart. To read this record as an act of stylistic defiance (as per the smashed guitar layout,) or as a ploy for renewed relevance from a face whose time in the sun has long since passed credits it with a sense of purpose that its mechanics couldn’t carry with a pad-locked wheel barrow. That Cornell claims to have “got out of” the making of this record “some excitement” that he hasn’t “felt in years” does less to explain the outrageously uninspired Scream than it does to highlight the evident staleness of his post-Soundgarden endeavors in Audioslave (you know, the quote-un-quote “supergroup” in which Cornell “put his brooding vocals to good use.” Thanks, Dean-O). You can’t blame Cornell for his impulse to brush the cobwebs off his shoulder, but you sure can blame him for thinking he could get credit for doing it without lifting so much as a toe nail. Cornell is not trying on a new suit for his big interview; he’s overslept and resigned to throwing on a gag t-shirt in the hopes that minimum effort will glean maximum sideways glance and ironic snicker.

Lyrically, Scream reads as an Idiots Guide to Threadbare Club Music Conceits, and the fact that Cornell green lit the printing of these turgid verses in the liners gives the impression that the guy takes this project just seriously enough to make the results that much more stupefying. The record’s lead single, Part of Me, peddles a casual misogyny that is rendered all the more insidious by virtue of being so evidently performative: “Little girl/ I love when she talks to me/ … I want the girl/ But I want a lot/ Might cross my mind/ But that’s where it stops/ That bitch ain’t a part of me.” Woah. It seems as if the romantic struggle that was so obtuse and mystifying when hashed out over drop-D riffage has gotten a whole lot simpler now that you can dance to it. To be fair, Chris has some more complementary modes re: bitches. For instance, in Watch Out, Cornell, get this, treats driving at high speeds as an avatar for sexual tension with a woman of questionable standing! Lock up your daughters: “Watch out/ She’s going ninety/ In a residential zone.” How dangerous and tantalizing. But Chris, there’s got to be more to pop lyricism than the “romance as flaming chess match” scenario, right? Natch: there’s always your perennial “slandered public figure as pariah” jam, which Sweet Revenge delivers with the finesse of an air-raid siren: “Everybody out for my blood/ Everybody want my percent/I don’t want to start going off/I don’t want to start talking shit/ … Pain and suffering/ Will come to those/ When I get even.” Yikes.

On Scream Cornell treats modern pop music as a mode that demands a blunt and simplistic lyrical sensibility, but he doesn’t seem to have made it much past the “rough sketch” portion of his crafting process, so the bulk of the lines here come off as clichéd and non-descript. There’s a whole lot of “messing with/going out of” some “mind(s)/ head (s),” a “going crazy” here, some “staring into… sanity” there; we visit the metaphorical spaces of “ground zero,” “a room you love,” and both “that side” and “the far side” of “town,”; blood “run(s) cold,” is “on the concrete,” is running through his “veins” and his “head,” and is measured in a “pint”; we’re told that Cornell “can’t fly” with “broken wings,” that “silence is golden,” that an object of affection is his “second skin,” that his love  “has been a sin”; a tale of love lost is treated with a painfully stale extended metaphor to end all painfully stale extended metaphors: “Baby, I used to watch your flowers grow/ Now it’s raining/ And all your flowers/ Turn to stone.” Actually, dude, rain is good for flowers. Medusa, on the other hand…

Timbaland’s beats only serve to make Scream doubly awkward and surreal. The production seems tailor made for allowing a singer who is completely out of his element to imagine himself in a “real life electronic record,” which makes Cornell come off as even more of a sad caricature. I don’t have a command of the vocabulary of pop production to adequately parse Timbaland’s insanely sterile and ham-fisted approach; suffice it to say, these sound like the kind of dance tracks that the characters in Halo would get down to, all gory spectacle without any sense of texture or depth, laser beams without color or heat, rhythm and funk as mere unit of sound without any discernable sense of momentum or pathos. “The finished product is one complete piece, with the songs blending into each other, a bit like Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon,” opines Goodman, whose comparison has a strange, unintended prescience: Scream immediately recalls the kind of aura that Dark Side now commands in retrospect, being too dismal and calculated to inspire empathy, too self-consciously affected to be enjoyed with any sense of abandon or excitement.

It doesn’t help matters that Cornell’s delivery is stilted and formulaic throughout. If you have ever ad-libbed a non-descript, overtly campy R n B verse to an overheard beat, you have a general grasp on Cornell’s approach to crooning, though you’d probably have to tone down the enthusiasm and replace it with, I don’t know, zombie? Cornell handles just about every verse on Scream in exactly the way you would imagine him handling it, no alarms, no surprises. He seems to neither be dignifying the project nor recognizing its inherent absurdity; at least one of these things needed to happen to make this record listenable as anything other than a weird curiosity, regrettable yet unmemorable. Rather than grabbing his brave new terrain by the sack, rather than embracing the stylistic gamble by treating it with the gusto and inane grandeur that would make this record, at the very least, entertaining, Cornell sounds like he is sleep walking, superimposed onto the blue-screen beats without a trace of real passion or reverenc. Scream operates under the assumption that having the ”iconic voice” that is so shamelessly advertised on the jewel case tag grafted onto these tracks is meant to spark recognition and appeal by virtue of its own novelty. The video for Part of Me captures this dynamic perfectly: Cornell is front and center, sitting in a chair, barely mustering a smirk and a non-committal head bob, while everyone else is getting paid to dance and wear cowboy hats.

Of course, Scream’s deepest gaffes are also its most fascinating features. Cornell is right in considering the album “an interesting sociological experiment,” as it provides an study in the mind of a rock-weaned middle ager struggling (and utterly failing) to grasp expressive modes that are alien to his core sensibilities. The results are less illuminating than unsettling, as Cornell has digested these features as shop-worn tropes, pieces that can be positioned to simulate a legitimate “style,” rather than treating the process as an immersion into the other, a means of refining his own craft by embracing a new set of tools. That said, the shelf life of Scream’s appeal as a curious misstep, as an indication of what modern pop music sounds like to someone who evidently does not appreciate or understand it, is ephemeral. Why is Trapped in the Closet, another outrageously mishandled genre hop for a well known singer, so infinitely re-watchable, where Scream seems forgettable on impact? R. Kelly’s evident (and, yes, insanely narcissistic,) enthusiasm for his creative impulses is super contagious, and the results are so shamelessly absurd and disjointed that the Ed Wood effect of ambition v. pay-off allows for an incredibly appealing and occasionally endearing display. No such tension between intent and delivery comes to the aid of Scream: the record sounds phoned in, plain and simple, and its awkward concessions to cliché, its trash heap lyrical conceits, and its dopey production have a cumulative effect that would be insulting if it weren’t so transparently uninspired and uninteresting.

Comments for Scream review

Nice write-up...

...sadly (or rather appropriately) this just makes me want to hear the record. I always enjoy your writing, TW; it gives me something to aspire to as a critic. Well done, sir.

Kevin, that is the mightiest

Kevin, that is the mightiest of complements. Thank you very, very much.

As for your temptation to sit through Scream, I'm sure that you will have your fill within the first few tracks. If hadn't volunteered to review this fucker, I wouldn't have gotten much further. This is the main reason why this record is so frustrating: its seems too invested in manufacturing the appearance of excellence to actually be engaging, whether that be through bizarre transcendence or serious, fore-head slapping idiocy. Prepare to be underwhelmed...

tw

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This review hits the nail in

This review hits the nail in the head: It's not that Chris Cornell decided to do dance music, therefore "betraying" his rock roots. It's that he allowed this "project" to have the most recycled and lowest-common denominator kind of music on it. And worst of all, it's soulless.

great review

a comprehensive and justified shit-beating.. i've gotta say the lyrical analysis part has gotta be one of the best paragraphs i've read in a review before. nails it..

Wow

A zero? Now can it really be THAT bad? :/

0

Sure, it's harsh, but I would encourage you to confront this number not as a grade but as a symbol, perhaps for "remarkable uselessness" or "gross ineptitude minus endearing appeal." To be frank, I've never been good at "grading" records: for the albums I like I invariably gravitate between 8 and 9, and even that seems like splitting hairs; a "perfect" score may not denote a "perfect" record but, rather, is meant to represent excitement or sublime sensation, which, come to think of it, seems like a ridiculous task to demand of a number. On the same token, I don't really feel comfortable with tabulating the redeeming qualities of a record that, as a whole, I do not enjoy. In my opinion, giving a 5 to a record that appears sound and well crafted but doesn't move me seems to be more of a dismissive gesture than giving a record that I find completely bereft of redeeming qualities, as I do this one, a firm zero. Would giving this record a 2 really change the color of the review, which finds absolutely nothing in the record that is even remotely exciting or praise-worthy? To answer your question, yes, this record certainly deserves a zero, but not necessarily for being "THAT bad" (if it was THAT bad, it would at least be entertaining, which it isn't): Scream holds a place, but it contains nothing; it is ostensibly present, but might as well not exist. Come to think of it, forget the symbolism. This is the most confident score that I have ever given in my life!

.

Well, I haven't heard it. Nor do I have any real desire to hear it. It's just been getting unanimously awful reviews and it's making me increasingly curious as to the reason. I hear Timbaland's production doesn't suit Chris Cornell whatsoever.

Scream

I listened to a few tracks and didn't finish any of them. They were so bad. There was nothing interesting, other than my strange interest in escaping the current track and on to the next, which I repeated until I just couldn't take it any more.
I know a lot of people didn't care for Audioslave, but Audioslave at its WORST is MILES ahead of Scream at its best.

This is a bad album, but

This is a bad album, but this review is more excruciating to sit through because it's trying even harder than Chris is to re-invent himself as some kind of "middle-aged housewife" demographic version of Justin Timberlake.

First paragraph screams "I've got a thesarus" and runs with it. Deliberately pretentious and hides the weak metaphorical analogies of the preceding ones (especially the second). Oh, I could harp on and on about why the review is worse than the album but wouldn't that make me even worse than the fool who wrote it? You bet it would!

Tom Whalen, you need to get a new profession.

Dear Opinion,

Well, it looks like you've outed me.

I'm very sorry that I panned the Chris Cornell record in such a pretentious fashion. I did use the term "half-assed," didn't I? You're right, it doesn't do much to offset the use of such obtuse and evidently pompous words as "castigate" and "paradigm." I had to dig REAL deep in my Webster for those two, of course. I feel very foolish now that you've seen the real wizard behind the curtain of my bloated, self-important writing style.

I'm really sorry for "trying" so hard to be articulate and sophisticated. I should just accept that I'm low rent internet writer and completely abandon any sense of pride that I have in my work. The the more distinctive I try to make my writing, the more I try to develop a richer vocabulary for cultural criticism, the less chance I have to get a nice paying job in this field. I very much wish that I could be giving Chris a nice 3 star review with plain, easy to swallow consumer-reports style write up in some glossy. It would be so easy to read, and I wouldn't have to worry about using words such as "cumulative" to make myself sound smart.

I really do appreciate the input. I now realize that my task as a writer is to convey information as clearly as possible, without the burden of needlessly evocative and over-adorned prose. My next review will be all ones and zeros, I promise.

Cheers,

tw

Missed the point?

Whilst I really enjoyed this piece (really well written, despite what other comments have said), I can't help but feel that you've somewhat missed the point. As a journalist myself, who has himself reviewed this record, I just feel that its too easy to dismiss this record when viewed through the eyes of the rock purist. Whilst I very much agree that Scream is a million miles away from Cornell's best work, it is not entirely without merit. This album was never going to equal the heights of Temple of the Dog, Soundgarden or even Audioslave, but after 15 (generally good or better) rock releases has Cornell not earned the right to try a new direction. Its clearly not the direction you, or I, would've chosen but in an age where pretty much all our 'pop' stars find their 'sound' and stick to it with a terrified certainty I personally find it refreshing that someone out there is trying a new direction?! I certainly don't believe for one minute that he is considering dragging out this new sound for anything longer than this album and a few tours, and then presumably he'll go off and try something different again that may be more to our taste. So, I guess my point through all this rambling is not to dismiss this record as the ultimate betrayal of what this man once was, but perhaps view it instead as a idealogical example of someone stepping out of their musical comfort zone for a change. One final point; take Scream and compare it to any R&B release of the past few years and, although some have better quality production (as Timbaland is shocking), I challenge you to find a more listenable release with a voice as unique as Cornell's!

This album sucks, you missed the point

Cornell may "deserve" to do whatever he wants musically, but I deserve to be warned it is an absolute piece of crap before I buy it.

That you belittle all of the R&B released in the past few years by attempting to elevate "Scream" above it shows that you really have not delved into this genre enough to make an informed judgement about it.

As far as you being a journalist, the grammar, punctuation, and overall voice of your response belies that remark. The word "whilst" starts two of your first three sentences!

I am not a journalist. I approached this record with an open mind. Cornell, instead of breaking new ground wallows in the most hackneyed of genre cliches, both musically and lyrically. The only thing that sets this release apart from any number of crappy R&B demos that would end up in an A&R guy's trash can is the staggering amount of wasted money and talent that went into it.

Chris Cornell

"awkwardly gracious" - 100% right. Cheers, Dean Goodman.

Scream

I can understand why some people would find this album as half-assed, or a sellout. If you're a rock fan you can hear something like this and dismiss it simply because it's not what you expected. However, I'm a sucker for fusions between rock and hip-hop, so I liked this album on first listen, and think it's the best album I've heard in the past year. Perhaps if some of the people who panned it right from the start would open their minds and listened to it, they would find it as a brilliant way to evolve and stay fresh for both Cornell and Timbaland.

scream

I think everything that you have said in your review is warranted. However- have you ever considered an album to be absolutely brilliant while also understanding why a lot of other people will see it as a total piece of crap? This is the case with this one. This is a shockingly good album. A bonafide tour de force.

Reviewer missed the point

This is an artist trying something new. He doesn't want to paint the same picture he has been doing for years. If you give the album and HONEST listen, and not through the spectacles of wanting another Soundgarden record, it has merit. Not every song is great, but there is some strong work on here. 0 stars is shortsighted LAZY review. Almost like a lazy wet fart.

Soundgarden?

I don't think anything here suggests Tom is reviewing this from the point of view of someone wanting another Soundgarden record. Fanboys aside, I think that's the last anyone wants. I also Think it's quite clear that Tom gave this a far more honest listen than the record itself deserved. Zeros aren't dished out lightly here; I'd expect a writer to be 100% sure a record deserves that score, and to make that clear in his write-up. I think Tom does that and for the record, I couldn't agree more.

Dave- I have come out of

Dave- I have come out of hibernation to thank you for coming to bat for me on this one. I've noticed the furor sparked by Nate's Mars Volta review and got to thinking I should check up on the comments to my Cornell goose-egg. Lo and behold, the low (no) number continues to turn heads and stir bile. I find it interesting that a number of the reactions, here and on the Volta review, have little to do with the actual substance of the review (some of them, including the comment above, seem to have ignored the writing entirely) and instead obsess over the numerical grade. As I have said in this forum before, grading records is rarely an empirical process for me; in this particular case, this number was more of a symbolic gesture than anything else. Just as my thrill over this year's Animal Collective and Thermals records, which I marked with 10s, seemed to overwhelm precise quantification, my stupefied distaste for "Scream" seemed as if it could only be carried by zero. It doesn't hurt that it's a provocative number, one that I think is mirrored and thereby justified by my review.

And yes, I did listen to this record, front to fuggin back, eight times. That's right: the ocho. I also took notes on lyrics. If that doesn't seal my right to lambaste with a massive nil, well...

The question remains: why is it the number that hurts the most? Who is to say, objectively speaking, that this is not a zero? Why is THAT the point of contention? Give me something to chew on here. Tell me that Timbaland's beats are bulletproof and candy coated. That Cornell is secretly crooning Spencerian sonnets. That you like songs about breaking the speed limit. Double nickels, brah. Double fucking nickels.

Oh Pitchfork: you've made the bed, now we are quibbling over decimal points in it...

tw

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Excessively ornate or complex in style or language; grandiloquent: turgid prose.

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