In an interview in early July, alt-country queen Linda Williams decreed Chris Cornell (along with Patty Griffin, Ryan Adams and Paul Westerberg) a younger artist worthy of admiration and declared herself “a big fan.”
Earlier this year Peter Frampton said it was because he “loved” Cornell’s work in Audioslave (2001-2007) and Soundgarden (1984-1997) that he recorded an instrumental version of “Black Hole Sun.” The track earned the veteran rocker a 2006 Grammy nomination.
On the other hand, a Seattle Web magazine recently and rudely announced that Cornell had “sold his soul” by doing a Wal-Mart Soundcheck promotion video for his new solo CD, “Carry On.”
Holed up in a Toronto hotel room, Cornell plays it cool as both bouquets and brickbats are relayed to him, pausing a moment before he reacts.
“The quotes (from Williams and Frampton) are incredible,” says Cornell, 43.
“My wife (Paris-based publicist Vicky Karayiannis) has the computer right now. Otherwise I would go on iTunes and buy (Frampton’s version of `Black Hole Sun’). I’m looking for music for the end of (my) show, when people are walking out. I thought I could use different versions of `Black Hole Sun.’ Before I investigated it, I counted four or five versions; there are 22.
“The weird thing is, if you put me in a time machine and sent me back to the time when `Frampton Comes Alive’ was the biggest album on the planet, when I was (about) 10, and you told me one day he would do one of your songs and say wonderful things about you - that’s fantasyland, especially for someone who grew up in a place (Seattle) where you didn’t hear anyone who had an impact on the rest of the planet. It makes me feel good about doing what I do.”
At the moment, what Cornell is doing is touring behind “Carry On,” which was released in late May, soon after he put Audioslave in his rear-view mirror. Backing him are guitarists Peter Thorn and Yogi Lonich, bassist Corey McCormick and drummer Jason Sutter.
On “Carry On” Cornell uses a variety of textures - blues, soul, funk, even folk - that have not sat well with fans of his heavier rock sound.
On the riff-rocker “No Such Thing” Cornell reclaims a bridge to his Soundgarden days - “I stayed away from writing riffs for Audioslave,” he says. But two ballads, “Finally Forever,” which he wrote to sing to his wife at their wedding reception, and the idealistic “Safe and Sound,” showcase a softer side some fans are having a hard time accepting.
The former, says Cornell, “reminds me of an early Rod Stewart song, not a single, but a deep album track. ... I did a version when we began recording. When we started editing out songs, I assumed it would be one that wouldn’t make it, but it did.”
As for “Safe and Sound,” which includes a horn section, “originally I thought it would be a moody Pink Floyd kind of song. The lyrics are kind of my take on (John Lennon’s) `Imagine,’ suggesting that it would be good living in a world where there was a lot more tolerance and love. At first I thought it was too simple and silly. But I talked myself out of it so many times, I finally thought, `I must do it.’”
As for the “shameless stumping” and lack of integrity the Seattle Web site accuses him of for doing the Wal-Mart Soundcheck, Cornell replies: “I’ve been hearing things like that since 1989 (when Soundgarden released its first album for a major label, `Louder Than Love’). ...
“Wal-Mart didn’t pay me for that, so where’s the sellout part? They paid for the recording, and they play it in the store. How is that different from performing on `Saturday Night Live?’”