Chris Cornell: Scream

Cornell's third solo LP -- a collaboration with Timbaland -- is the ultimate example of popular music not as an art form, but as a consumer product to be shelved next to the novelty t-shirts in Spencer's Gifts.

Chris Cornell


Label: Universal
US Release Date: 2009-03-10
UK Release Date: 2009-03-23

There are still people out there who don't take popular music seriously. To them, it's something frivolous and simplistic, pleasant in the same crude and mindless way as scratching a mosquito bite, an underdeveloped form of "art" that deserves no more serious inspection than an eight-year-old's drawing of a zombie fighting a robot. And as much as these self-righteous ignoramuses deserve to be abhorred, as much as popular music has tangibly enriched my own life -- and assumedly your life, if you're taking time out of your day to read this review -- after listening to Chris Cornell's Scream, I have to grudgingly concede to them: Ok, yeah, you guys have a point. Popular music can be pretty fucking dumb.

Scream -- the result of a collaboration between Cornell and omnipresent producer Timbaland -- is the ultimate example of popular music not as an art form, but as a consumer product to be shelved next to the novelty t-shirts in Spencer's Gifts. It's sleek and club-ready, has spawned five singles before its official release, and has absolutely no artistic aspirations beyond chart-topping success.

It's interesting and unsettling, then, that this album ostensibly comes from a man ("ostensibly" because every song here seems to have no less than four writing credits) who, in his prime, helped alternative music find a place in the mainstream consciousness. Listening to Soundgarden and their other grunge contemporaries today reveals something that remains vital: a remarkable balancing act between pop sensibility and underground grit, an instantly accessible sound that at the same time made few artistic compromises. And while Cornell, from his work with Audioslave onward, has been moving in an increasingly conservative, blandly inoffensive direction, I don't think many could have predicted this blatant and embarrassing grab for mainstream relevancy. I don't use the term "sell out" often, but yeah, you know.

Cornell, ironically given the album's title, sings in a smooth R&B croon for nearly the entirety of Scream. On paper, such a deviation from his usual raspy blues-inflected performance reads like it might be refreshing, perhaps even revitalizing for the aging rocker. In practice, it irons out the rough edges, ticks, and vulnerabilities that made his work with Soundgarden, and to a lesser extent Audioslave, so charismatic. If you can manage to sift through all the trite studio effects and insane vocal multitracking that makes Queen look downright conservative, then you'll see a Cornell that at least seems comfortable in his new persona, practiced and professional -- but in the same banal, uninteresting, and unthreatening way that the manager at your local Cinnabon might seem practiced and professional.

Speaking of unthreatening professionalism: Timbaland. At this point in his career, his handful of past critical successes seem to stem from the fact that he's, well, everywhere, and with that much prolificacy going on he's bound to hit on the correct formula every now and then. Needless to say, that never happens on Scream. Instead of doing something interesting like exploring the intersection between Cornell's rock guitar and electronic music, he cordons anything that wouldn't fit comfortably in your local douchebag-frequented club to marginalized interludes between tracks -- which, of course, end up being generally more interesting than the tracks themselves. There's nothing here as audacious and attention-grabbing as that Gregorian chant from "Cry Me a River", there are countless formulaic and tacky orchestral flourishes, and the only moderately interesting bits of the album -- an overblown intro, the electro house conceits of "Part of Me", and the Middle Eastern instrumentation that drifts through "Take Me Alive" -- find Timbaland reprising tricks he's long ago added to his repertoire.

What we get when we put the pieces together: an album where every single song is approximately the same length; an album where you could take apart any one track, combine those segments with other stray bits of the album, and still have the same basic entity you started with; an album whose choruses consist of phrases like "No, that bitch ain't a part of me" repeated eight times; an album that, above all else, does not want you to think about it too hard.

If you against all common sense do decide to dive in, though, you'll find at least one moment that's weirdly affecting: at the 4:08 mark on penultimate track, "Climbing Up the Walls", we unexpectedly hear a distant, lo-fi recording of Cornell with his acoustic guitar. He sounds fragile, ragged, weary. An artist perhaps dimly intuiting that time is, even as he's strumming, dragging him further and further away from a time when he mattered.


From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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