Audioslave are back and still making music that doesn't live up to expectations. Still, they are not without hope.
The supergroup. Is there any hope for it? Can rock powerhouses come together to form a band in which the whole is greater than the sum of it parts? Audioslave insists that they can, and have done just that. In fact they would have you believe that they are no longer a supergroup, but rather an honest to goodness homegrown rock band. While they do technically meet all of the requirements of such a rock band, Cornell, Morello, Commerford and Wilk seem too aware of their pasts to transcend its shadows. It's almost not fair to even ask them to attempt such a great feat. But, as selfish music listeners we ask it anyway. Unfortunately, Audioslave isn't quite up to the task yet. In fact, Audioslave have a significant distance to travel before they step into their own as a band. They are not, however, without hope.
On their debut Audioslave plodded along at a snail's pace (with one or two exceptions) and it seemed each member struggled to find his own voice within the confines of the new band. Rick Rubin did little to help. The music was diluted and streamlined into a neatly packaged ball of uninspired rock which ultimately marginalized both fronts of the band. Out of Exile is a step in the right direction. It distances the band further from their respective pasts and from the sonic drudgery of the debut. The sound is more natural and sonically the songs pack more punch.
The character of each band member shows through more on this latest release. It only makes sense -- you can only quiet Rage Against the Machine for so long. This becomes obvious right out of the gate. The album opens with Morello's signature guitar and a bunch of Rage before Chris Cornell's amazing vocals charge in. The chorus breaks up the song with a pretty damn catchy hook. The title track follows with more impressive bombast. Again Morello's guitars lead the sonic onslaught while Commerford and Wilk work subtly in the background. These first two tracks inspire a lot hope that maybe Audioslave have arrived. Unfortunately, a kick in the teeth follows.
"Be Yourself", The third track and lead single follows. I can't say enough about the ridiculousness of what sounds like a high school rock band's ballad that all the girls go crazy for. The plodding pace and Lyrics like, "Be yourself is all that you can be," are stunningly bad. Even Morello's trademark 'wah' solo sounds like he forgot how to use the pedal. That a group of musicians as talented as Cornell and Rage Against the Machine committed it to tape is... well, it's frankly unbelievable. "Be Yourself" is the exception to the rule on Out of Exile and most of what follows is enjoyable enough, even though it may not be staggeringly impressive. But the damage was done, and the album never fully recovers. Instead, it offers track after track of 'Audioslave by the numbers'.
The most notable aspects of the album are those that don't sound like Audioslave songs at all. "Doesn't Remind Me", has tinges of southern rock, including a surprisingly standard (and good) rock solo from Morello and swinging drums from Wilk. "Yesterday to Tomorrow", opens with a bass line that the Chemical Brothers wish they had written and is peppered with sparse tremolo guitars before working its way into a tight grove. It's actually when they stick to their 'sound' that the music suffers the most. Many of the arrangements are uninspired and at times painfully predictable. Frankly, this is a little surprising considering Rick Rubin produced the album. I can't help but think a few more risks in the studio may be what this band needs most.
Out of Exile finds Audioslave moving closer to finding their identity as a band; however they still have one or two more albums before they get there. The sophomore album sounds like they're still trying a little too hard for greatness. Yet, at the same time they sound too unwilling to explore a musical path that may open them up to it. They're just a little too self conscious to let it all go -- this is especially the case with Cornell, who sings like he's posing in front of a mirror and writing lyrics like he's afraid someone may disapprove if they're a little edgy. It's a shame really. Vanilla lyrics and rehashed sounds are the last thing the world needs from these guys. I wanted so badly for Out of Exile to be the loud, bombastic, nasty, fuck-off rock record I feel like these guys can make. It was not to be. Instead they made a pretty mediocre record, weighted down by its lack of invention. Oh well, maybe next time.