Tag Archives: Hard Rock

RIP Chris Cornell, 1964 – 2017

The sad and shocking news that Chris Cornell, founder and frontman of both Soundgarden and Audiosoave and one of the most gifted rock vocalists of his generation, has died at the age of 52 is still reverberating around the music world. He was found dead in his hotel room in Detroit on May 17th while on tour with his re-formed original band, the great grunge pioneers from Seattle, an apparent suicide. Cornell’s loss as an individual and his loss to rock music as a whole is hard to fully process. Our sincere condolences go out to his family and friends.

Searching With My Good Eye Closed – Badmotorfinger (1991) 

Unlike their local peers Nirvana and Pearl Jam, with whom they are most closely grouped, Soundgarden was less true “grunge” than an extension of classic 70s hard rock, albeit with sophisticated lyrical themes and innovative musical techniques. While initially satirizing the over-the-top nature of metal at the time they began in the late 80s — see “Big Dumb Sex” for the apotheosis of this in your face, on the nose send-up of hardcore metal misogyny — Soundgarden quickly graduated to a more lyrically complex, more darkly psychedelic metal sound that was uniquely their own. Their real breakthrough was Badmotorfinger, one of the seminal albums of the 90s in any genre. A borderline concept album, Badmotorfinger was inestimably weird and powerful, featuring guitarist Kim Thayil’s patented Drop D tuning on several hard-hitting classics like “Jesus Christ Pose,” “Outshined,” the soaring & ominous “Searching With My Good Eye Closed” and the punishing and mystical “Room A Thousand Years Wide.” Another track from this awesome album, “Mind Riot,” seemed to point in the direction that Cornell and the band would take in future: hard-edged, certainly, but with an almost ballad-like emotional intensity and strikingly original lyrics of searching strangeness and loss.

I was crying from my eye teeth and bleeding from my soul
And I sharpened my wits on a dead man’s skull
I built an elevator from his bones
Had climb to the top floor just to stamp out the coals (I’ve been caught in a mind riot)

Candle’s burning yesterday
Somebody’s best friend died
I’ve been caught in a mind riot

Mind Riot – Badmotorfinger (1991)

After the explosion of Grunge as a distinct genre onto the national scene, fueled by their own success and that of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and the Screaming Trees among others, Soundgarden followed up Badmotorfinger with an even bigger hit, Superunknown. The new album was characterized by a subtle shift away from pure heavy metal and more emphasis on mystical guitar driven psychedelia. Propelled by the huge MTV hits “Black Hole Sun” and “Spoonman,” the album also featured other classics like the title track and the propulsive “My Wave.”

Superunknown – Superunknown (1994)

The band also honed their penchant for extreme pessimism with the beautiful downers “The Day I Tried To Live,” “Like Suicide” and the very heavy “Mailman” and “4th of July.” Continue reading

RIP Scott Weiland, 1967-2015

Scott Weiland has passed away while on tour at the age of 48 (the New York Times Obituary is here). Best known as the lead singer for 1990s hit-making machine Stone Temple Pilots, Weiland had a strong and versatile rock voice, a flamboyantly aggressive stage presence and a penchant for dark lyrics. But he was also a long time substance abuser, including periods of serious heroin use, and that definitely compromised his abilities on stage if not in the studio. In fact, he was kicked out of STP more than once and also by the “supergroup” Velvet Revolver (basically Guns ‘n Roses without Axl Rose), the band he joined in 2002 after he was booted by STP for the first time. In later years he revealed he had been sexually assaulted as a young boy so if he went looking for something strong to numb that pain while appearing to live the “glamorous” drug-fueled life of a rock star who could really blame him?

A distant sixth behind Nirvana, Soundgarden, Screaming Tress, Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains in the rankings of the biggest Grunge Heavyweights, Stone Temple Pilots were also seen by many as opportunistic California carpetbaggers as opposed to genuine practitioners of Seattle’s own proud hometown music genre. But on any given single or any given concert performance STP could really rock it and in fact they brought a pleasingly tacky and grandiose arena-oriented feel to the scene. Their first two (and best) albums, Core (1992) and Purple (1994), show such a dichotomy of sonic approaches — Core almost like parody version of Pearl Jam with a harder edge and nastier themes and Purple departing comfortably for polished power pop territory — that the distinct impression is not so much a band wedded to a particular genre but rather a band without a real identity yet still making music so well-crafted and executed that they can’t help but churn out huge hits. So much so that for some of us who were young and impressionable in the 90s, STP’s music is indelibly part of the soundtrack of our youth right alongside their more highly regarded rivals.

And if Weiland’s voice was not really a match in distinctiveness when pitted against Chris Cornell, Eddie Vedder, Mark Lanegan, Layne Staley or even the shrieking of Kurt Cobain, he was nonetheless a top-notch rock frontman with the ability to cover a wide range from laid back nasal to growling bellow to belted out ballad. Those first two STP albums hold up remarkably well some 20+ years later despite — or maybe because of — their lack of stylistic similarity. And Scott Weiland’s formidable vocals are a big reason why. If his subsequent career and life was something of a mess and neither he or the band could ever match those heights again, well, that’s hardly a unique story in Rock ‘n Roll history is it? The simple fact is that Scott Weiland had the chops and sheer will to make himself into a rock star, performed like a rock star and definitely lived like a rock star. It’s also a fact that his chosen vocation probably killed him before he turned 50. It’s sad but certainly not unexpected. Weiland lived longer than most people thought he ever would and a hell of a lot longer than his contemporaries Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley. Nobody ever said rock stars are promised a ripe old age, particularly those who don’t change their wicked ways. And once again, for the umpteenth time, we have proof of that. But what else would Scott Weiland have done with his life if not live fast, die young and leave a pile of hit records behind? Would he — could he — really have done it any differently?


Earworm of the day — Arms Around Your Love by Chris Cornell

This beauty by the great Chris Cornell popped up on my workout mix the other day at the gym and it’s been bouncing around my brain since then like it was brand new again.

Of course it’s not new… but it is still true. “Arms Around Your Love” comes off of the former Soundgarden front man’s 2007 solo effort, Carry On, which also featured his bruising Bond theme for Casino Royale, “You Know My Name”. It falls into that relatively rare subgenere of power ballad: the romantic advice song. It’s bloody good, though, and the hard-earned wisdom shines through every soaring note of Cornell’s preternaturally powerful voice. Play it once and you’re guaranteed to play it again. And also best to heed the man’s advice and tell your lady how much you think of her while you’re the one lucky enough to be holding her. You would’t want some other guy getting that honor, now would you?