A mere year and a half after Out of Exile, Audioslave tweaks the formula a bit, but manages nothing all that revelatory.
When I first put Revelations in my well-worn CD player, it had me a little worried. I mean, I always root for Audioslave -- I keep wanting these guys to create the biggest, baddest rock 'n roll record that the aught-decade has yet seen (as would befit their impressive '90s pedigrees), and they keep coming up just a little short. And if the title track of Revelations, which happens to open the album, was to be any indication, they'd have given up completely on this particular goal that I set without their knowledge. "Revelations" sounds like a decent enough song for a while, riding a solid Morello Riff on top of some of that patented, slappy Comerford Bass and Wilk Drumming, and Chris Cornell doing his tuneful screamy thing over the top, and everything's just ducky, and then... the chorus, which just represents everything that's wrong with Audioslave, everything that's ever been wrong with them -- the distortion comes down, the vocals are multitracked, and it sounds sickly-slick and smooth and hooky, the latter of which might actually be forgivable if the hook were, say, memorable.
In short, it's a perfect candidate for rock radio (perhaps not coincidentally, it shares a lot of the same problems that I have with Soundgarden's "My Wave"), and obviously so. Perhaps some of that waxy sheen can be blamed on producer Brendan O'Brien, but all of Audioslave's albums to date occasionally sport this problem, making them a little too calculated to really rip, a little too shiny for the darkness and angst that Cornell, Morello and co. are trying to get across to we, the listeners.
And yet, ready as this particular listener was to completely write off the album (and, for that matter, the band) after that particular false start, there are treasures to be found within Revelations, the most powerful of which are actually stashed way at the end of the album. It seems that Cornell, hard as he tried to keep Audioslave from being a "political" band (he fought it, he did), just couldn't help himself when Katrina hit. As a result, we get the following fabulously scathing stanza: "Down on the road the world is floating by / The poor and undefended left behind / While you're somewhere trading lives for oil / As if the whole world were blind." Obviously, these are not novel sentiments that Cornell is expressing, but just as it was for Zach de la Rocha, it's all in the delivery, and Cornell has the perfect mix of downcast despondence and righteous rage to make such words sound as meaningful as I'm sure he thinks they are. By the time he's screaming the title over and over at the end, it's hard not to scream along with him, which is exactly how the screamy bits of Audioslave songs should be -- visceral, yet catchy.
Similarly impressive is "Moth", which happens to close the album by combining a savage Black Sabbath riff with decent metaphors and some more of that perfectly raspy Cornell wailing -- "I don't fly around your fire anymore," he screams, and it's easy to feel the sting of a friendship lost. It's enough to make the listener want more, which is what an album closer should do, really.
So what of the much ballyhooed connection to R&B and P-funk that Revelations is purported to push on its listeners? But for a few exceptions, it's fairly negligible. "Broken City" funks in circles like a Rage outtake that never gets off the ground, though Cornell's falsetto is pretty and fun in a completely inappropriate sort of way. Morello busts out the wow-wow-chickawow guitars for the driving, enjoyable "One and the Same". For the most part, though, this is Audioslave as you know them, more content to channel Zeppelin than Earth, Wind, and Fire (those being the two names Morello all-too-readily dropped when asked to describe the album), more Sabbath than Parliament. This should not surprise you.
The same goes for the rest of the album. This is Audioslave, and what with Audioslave releasing this album a mere year-and-a-half after Out of Exile, one could make the pretty safe assumption that not all that much has changed. That assumption would be correct -- there may be a little bit more funk involved, there may be a slight hit on the political front, but it's still just the Rage guys and Chris Cornell making music. Some of the songs are pretty good. Others will get on your nerves. There's a lot of distortion, and one-and-a-half power ballads for the purpose of courting the VH1 audience two or three singles in. Lather, rinse, repeat, and if you liked the formula then, you'll like Revelations now. Enjoy.