Released May 28, 2007
1 hr, 2 min, 14 sec
Audioslave was broken up by the clashing of a singer’s solo career against the wishes of his instrumental collaborators.
Or maybe it was the money. Depends on who you want to believe, I suppose.
Regardless, Audioslave ended the way that Rage Against the Machine did, with Chris Cornell choosing to go his own way without the former Rage players, doing a second lap on the circuit of his solo career for the next three years. Rumors had been flying around throughout all of 2006 that Cornell’s solo album meant, or would mean, the end of Audioslave, and sure enough, the album was released just three months after the band’s breakup announcement. Recorded throughout 2006 and 2007, much of the album’s music was written with Audioslave in mind, but Cornell deemed them unfit for an Audioslave; he noted that he was “always writing,” which made this essentially inevitable.
The album takes a more generic rock sound than Audioslave’s, fueled by Cornell’s own individual music sensibilities and, possibly, a desire to make an explicit distinction between Audioslave and Cornell’s restarted solo career. Indeed, several of the songs on this album feel unfit for an Audioslave album; “Arms Around Your Love,” about a lover being wooed away, is a particular standout, while “Silence the Voices” uses a vocal style that would prevent it from mixing well with anything on Audioslave’s Revelations. “Scar on the Sky,” one of my personal favorites, is much too light, instrumentally, to ever be at home among the heavy, crashing sounds of Audioslave; the same goes for “Killing Birds” despite its darker subject matter.
Audioslave can still be heard on this album, however; the first two tracks in particular feel like they could be right at home on any of Audioslave’s three albums, despite Cornell’s best efforts to differentiate. Cornell does, however, experiment with his sound here; “Safe and Sound” incorporates horns, and feels more like a Southern rock track, slow and steady in its pacing. “She’ll Never Be Your Man” has a groove to it, with a swingy feel in the rhythm that makes it stand out from the rest of the album.
“Billie Jean” is a cover that probably shouldn’t exist, however. Since this is Chris Cornell pre-Scream, his take is an incredibly dour, down-tempo blues version, framing the situation described in the lyrics as being much, much more depressing than the Michael Jackson original. To be honest, this cover sucks all the life out of the song, which is probably to be expected, considering it’s a blues rock version of a Michael Jackson classic. Bonus points for not doing a straight rock cover of the song (looking at you, Adam and the Ants, with your boring-ass, safe-as-shit version of “Smooth Criminal”), but this is certainly not the way to go about re-interpreting it.
Of particular note is the bonus track “You Know My Name,” co-written with David Arnold for Casino Royale, the debut of Daniel Craig as James Bond. The Bond franchise had not had a theme song by a male vocalist since 1987’s “The Living Daylights” for the film of the same name, Timothy Dalton’s Bond debut. Cornell was approached because the film’s producers wanted a male voice for Casino Royale, and Cornell noted that Craig’s performance convinced him to take the offer. Living up to what the producers expected, “You Know My Name” is a strong rock track, with a driving beat and lyrics from Cornell that reflect on the new Bond’s psyche, helping to paint a new picture of the character to better fit Craig’s portrayal, while also reflecting on the familiarity of the character – hence, the song’s title and refrain.
“You Know My Name” is Cornell’s biggest solo single, and one of the most successful songs he’s provided vocals for, with a warm critical reception to go alongside it. Carry On cannot boast the same results; the album was not well-received, with many feeling that the album was a disappointment after Audioslave, and that it didn’t do very many interesting things musically. A common complaint was that the album’s musical styles did not blend very well at all, and that the end result was a confusing, conflicting sound palette.
Nevertheless, Cornell plowed forward with his at-this-point questionable solo career, turning in an even more upsetting album two years later, with the Timbaland-produced Scream. I don’t have that one in my library because, well, why the fuck would I? I’ll make sure to cover it in a Spotify special, however, because this is one album that deserves that treatment.
I like Carry On. It’s nowhere near a flawless album, and Cornell certainly makes some confusing, questionable musical choices on it (“Billie Jean” in particular), but it is a solid outing worthy of the pedigree Cornell had built with his careers in Soundgarden and Audioslave. The fact that it is a solid album with a great number of catchy tracks makes Scream all the more baffling as a follow-up, and that album’s horrendous critical reception likely played a large part in Cornell’s retreat back to the reformed Soundgarden the very next year.
Perhaps that’s for the best; solo work never seemed to fit Cornell. He’s a vocalist that works far, far better when part of a unit that can put out fantastic instrumental music, and Soundgarden is where he should stay as long as he can.