First card: Mr Cornell of Seattle, vocalist. Next up: Mr Mosley of Virginia, producer. Hang on a minute. That’s Timbaland, right? It’s not the first pairing that jumps out of the hat, it has to be said. Mike Patton and the Qemists, fair enough – they clearly sing from the same hymn sheet. But then again, why shouldn’t rock heavyweights get involved with electronic producers? What have they got to lose?
Quite a lot, as it turns out. This is after all the man that once sang “love is like suicide”. Now he’s imploring his audience to “make a little love, make a little warmth” on Time.
But don’t get your coats just yet, you at the back. If you’ve been listening to Cornell for long enough you’ll know pretty much everything he sings can turn to gold. And Part Of Me makes a mightily impressive opener, the vocalist singing “that bitch ain’t a part of me”.
Yet Scream is a record full of contributions, and ironically is a better album when Timbaland chooses not to use the guitars. When he does, you’re fooled into thinking Cornell’s about to rock out as he did in Soundgarden days – and he doesn’t.
It proves much better, then, to see his new direction as adding a bit of gritty soul to beats previously adorned with pretty standard R&B fayre. Get Up has the rising strings to back its chorus, even if it does sound like a Justin Timberlake album track.
What Cornell does do really well is throw into sharp relief the quality of vocal often applied to a song such as Never Far Away, hitting the high notes with expression and emotion you don’t hear often. Perhaps the biggest test is the ballad Long Gone, but he deals with the softer focus sound well, keeping the rough tone on the edge of his voice.
Sometimes Timbaland presses too many buttons in the studio, his occasional orchestral stabs at Beethoven way overdone. Scream does also make the standard R&B mistake of being way too long, the quality dipping before the end due to a relative lack of melodic material.
On the strength of it, you’d be hard pushed to equate Cornell’s work here with his Soundgarden stuff. The years since then – Audioslave included – have seen the voice mature in a way that brings out its soulful side, while retaining the edge that gave his unique cover of Billie Jean raw individuality.
It’s impossible not to admire his risk taking here, and anyone that had the Seattle grungers down as one-dimensional had better think again. This is a startling new direction, and while not entirely successful, it confirms Cornell as a vocalist of versatility and strength. What’s next though – Eddie Vedder versus NeYo? Don’t look away just yet…