“Released” May 16, 2002
1 hr, 2 min, 38 sec
I mentioned the Civilian Demos in my post on Audioslave, a set of demos that were in a mostly-complete state by the time they were leaked, before the band’s debut album even had a release date. Named after the band’s alleged name at the time (though Tom Morello has disputed this in interviews about the Audioslave name), the Civilian Demos gave fans a chance to hear what this mysterious new supergroup would sound like before Audioslave was released.
The band was, of course, incredibly annoyed that a set of unfinished tracks had come out before they had the chance to establish what they actually intended to sound like. It makes sense – though these demos were close to being complete, having been leaked just since months before the final album’s release, there are still a lot of differences, with almost every song having a lyric-based working title. A number of the songs use clearly incomplete vocal takes and stripped down solos, and a couple even retain Brad Wilk’s count-ins. The melodies and lyrics are there, but they’re just not the final takes.
Cornell’s voice is the biggest sufferer in these leaked tracks – he sounds like utter shit on a great number of songs, owing to a combination of no mastering, placeholder takes, and just vocal rust. “I’ll Wait There For You” features a vocal take that sounds a lot like Cornell had literally just woken up and was reading off a lyric sheet. “Shadow on the Sun” features a lot of unnecessary shouting at random points during the solo in the bridge, and Cornell’s voice is far rougher than usual all across the board.
As mentioned above, Morello’s solos are less intricate than they are on the final release, though the framework is generally the same for each one, with the notable exceptions of “Shadow on the Sun” and “Live in Silence,” which feature completely different solos. The rest of the instrumentation is almost exactly the same as the final album, only sounding a little rougher due to the lack of mastering. This makes sense, as Cornell and Morello are the clear featured players throughout the album, and their performances are the most likely to be tweaked as a result.
Two songs in this batch of demos are not present on Audioslave – “We Got the Better Bomb” and “Turn to Gold.” The former emerged as a b-side on the “Cochise” single with the final title “We Got the Whip,” while “Turn to Gold” exists only on this demo release. It’s not clear why either song was abandoned, as both of them are quality tracks, though neither one has a particularly compelling set of lyrics.
The rough nature of these demos likely didn’t inspire too much confidence in Audioslave among the fanbases of its component parts in Rage Against the Machine and Soundgarden, but it is important to note that these demos were never meant to be heard at any point, and judging the final album based on these demos would have been ridiculous and unfair. These demos, at the very least, demonstrate the chemistry between Cornell and his new bandmates, something that was frequently questioned as the band began to get into gear with the approaching release of Audioslave. Even so, the leaks, combined with the myriad rumors of the band breaking up and Cornell being shipped off to rehab during the album’s recording fostered an unpleasant air around the band, and they had to endure negative publicity right out of the gate.
Speaking about the demos, Morello in particular expressed frustration and disappointment in several interviews, noting that many of the components in the songs were not final and had changed for the final album. He also implicated an intern at the recording studio they worked at (Seattle’s Bad Animal Studios) for leaking the demos, referring to him as “some jackass intern” that had stolen them and released them on his own. He also noted that the demos damaged the band’s reputation before they’d had a chance to establish it; “with a band like this, there’s a certain amount of expectation.” Nevertheless, the demos did not have a lasting effect on the band’s popularity, and Audioslave remains the band’s highest-selling album.
The Civilian Demos are exactly what they purport to be – unfinished tracks that, nonetheless, are an interesting piece of Audioslave’s history, giving insight into how their songs were constructed and composed at the time they were released. Though they were more essential back then than they are now, they remain an interesting listen for any fan of Chris Cornell, Rage Against the Machine, or Audioslave itself.