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Audioslave – Audioslave

July 6, 2006

In 2002, a supergroup called Audioslave surfaced with former members of Rage Against The Machine and former Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell. People were not quite sure what to make of the strange combo at the time. Considering over half the band was born under hip-hop and rap influence as well as classic rock, it would just seem like a bad idea to mix the burly thrash instrumentation with a grunge hero like Cornell. However, despite what critics may have said at the time of this albums release, it is a great record, and it is well worth the time of a fan of either Rage Against The Machine or Soundgarden. What is really special about the music here is that something completely different is born of two already familliar concepts. Tom Morello, Tim Commerford, and Brad Wilk have experience pumping out rock solid riffs and beats, and Chris Cornell already knows how to write melodic tunes while still screaming his lungs out. And there are examples of both of these qualities all over the place in the music, but at the same time, all of the members strive to make a new sound while still keeping their roots, and what do you know, it works.

The album opens up with probably the most popular track, the loud and powerful wall of fire Cochise. The first thing you will notice here is that the former Rage members haven’t changed much. You could easily hear Zack de la Rocha jump in with a killer rhyme right now, but he doesn’t, and instead we are treated to the voice of Chris Cornell. His voice isn’t quite what it used to be, which is most likely due to his smoking it out. Yes, at the moment he is no longer smoking, but when he was in his prime jumping around the stage, screaming at the top of his lungs, and drinking like a fish, he surely knocked back quite a few cigarettes a day. And he suffers for that now, but it’s a crime to say that his voice isn’t good. Because it still is, but he has said himself that he can’t quite get as excited on stage as he used to. But that’s cool, because as long as he can still throw out great lines and actually mix them with the rap-rock type riffs, like he does with “take it out on me,” no one is complaining.

Show Me How To Live is also a winner, and is another song you would likely crank out at midnight at a gas station, just because it mixes the attitude of thrash and hard rock very well with the principles of alternative and flat out pop. And actually, Gasoline works pretty well too. Putting the echo back on Cornells voice was a very good idea, and that kind of vast rugged feeling will come back again, rest assured. But Cornells vocals actually saved this tune, and if they didn’t, it would be another droll riff that has already been heard hundreds of times before. It’s just to common to go unattended. This exact same situation comes about on What You Are, but this time, the guitar and bass parts are much more mellow. But Brad Wilk will always be there on drums to stop you from falling asleep. That was never even an issue. It’s great that we do have Brad on drums, because he is very experienced in his field and still has the goods to break out a great rock beat.

And then instead of appealing more to the hard rock side of the band, more attension is paid to Cornells masterful hands of creation and a classic pop song is created, Like A Stone. This is exactly the kind of song you would expect to have been released in the nineties while Soundgarden was still a reality, and it holds just about as much power and emotion as the bands smash hit Black Hole Sun did. The pace keeps up very well, and Tim’s funky bass complements it well. And the spacey guitar is the epitomy of loneliness and perseverence. And of course, Chris Cornell makes it a knockout hit with his absolutely brilliant lyrics. Folks, it just doesn’t get much better than this when it comes to Rock. This is the kind of song the record needed, and it’s a relief that Cornell still has the songwriting ability to write songs like this.

And then it bounces back with Set It Off, another hard rocker in the vein of Cochise. And once again, a compromise is made and Cornell leans a little more towards the interests of the rest of the band and yells out some more rugged lyrics. It’s a great song, much better than the likes of gasoline and What You Are, and perhaps even Cochise. But it doesn’t prepare the listener for the next song, Shadow On The Sun. The listener might ask themself, can Tom Morello even do that? Like, put his guitar in the back and push the bass to the front like he does in the verses? Well he does, and it works great. And of course the chorus is still what you got from the earlier tracks, but this is where Chris Cornells psychedelic and melodic influences come in more to form a very nocturnal tune.

I Am The Highway is actually another keeper, and is another very quiet tune, a lot like Like A Stone. And this time, Tom Morello plays a pivitol role without being too loud. His lunar guitar playing is fantastic, when it is accoustic or not. The song just really flows, and it is something that none of the members of the band have really gotten to do before. Needless to say, Rage would never have done something like this, and Soundgarden could probably write something like this, but not play it without being more metallic and tough. So fans of both bands can be very proud of this new ground that is covered.

But I’ll be honest, the band makes a few flubs on the album, Exploder being one of them. The twist of Tom Morellos guitar should be good, but it just isn’t exciting or new enough to justify it being on here. It’s the same riff formula you are already used to, so it isn’t that essential. Like Hypnotize is. This is another priceless track, Driven forward by a rumbling bassline and tight dance beat. Of course we have a layer of Tom Morellos feedback to complement it all. And Chris Cornell gets his voice down very very low and lays on some very cool effects later. Or I should say, Rick Rubin lays down the effects, because he produced the album. Good decision to let him do that, by the way, because he’s a winning producer anyway. Then the guitars sort of do this short little shreds for a little while. Actually, his guitars are even more in the background than anywhere else in the album, save a few cool effects later on in the song. Of course the guitar is very key, but there is no riff so much as there is a set of chords that can be played over in different ways. I have no idea how they got the inspiration for this song, but I’m very curious.

Bring Em Back Alive kind of sucks too. When over half of the band comes from a background where throwing out riffs works extremely well, then why change? Well, the rap overtone works much better on this kind of song. It’s mediocre, and even if I like this album a lot, I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t have weak moments like this. Light My Way kind of does the same thing, and it is still kind of gimmicky because it also throws out the riff and trys to live off of it every minute or so, but it’s actually not too bad of a song. Very funky, very mystical, very nomadic. The entire album gives me the image of some kind of traveler wandering through all sorts of environments in different seasons, continents, and time periods. Like, one second, the traveler is in Egypt or Mongolia or something, and the next second they are in the Dominican Republic or Kenya or something, or some random grassy plain on a sunny day. And highways too, in urban America. That seems to be a reoccuring theme in this record. Theres a lot of talk of Highways and roads and freeways and stuff. As you can see, I sort of have these images for any given song or album from any band. I like the system. Anyway, in this song they even use a clever cell-phone jingle later on, so it keeps it’s individuality in some way pretty well.

Like I said before, each band member of Audioslave comes from an environment where they are used to pushing out in front. So the problem would of course arise where everyone is trying to push forward alone as opposed to letting eachother take turns. But Getaway Car is the perfect indication that the problem can be dealt with eventually. It’s just a generally pleasent little tune. There is no progressive shredding. The most the guitar gets is a pleasant little lonely guitar solo later on. It’s a great song, and should have been the ending tune instead of The Last Remaining Light, and while that song is kind of interesting, it isn’t anywhere even remotely close to comparable to Getaway Car.

Audioslave did not end up being a one shot deal like many superbands end up being. Early last year, Out of Exile was released and sort of showed the exact opposite viewpoint that this album showed in the form of a more bright, optimistic, and diverse set. In my opinion, it isn’t better, but it lets me look at the superior album as if it should be named “In Exile.” The band still isn’t finished either, and the follow up titled Revelations should be released on September 5th. I’m suprised that they could crank out an album at that pace, but hey, it sounds very interesting. I already think I have an image ready for this album too. A big city, with lots of fights, explosions, feelings, and political unrest. One thing that Audioslave has prooved through both of their albums to date is that even if all of the band membrs spend years cranking out tunes, they haven’t finished yet. And with this much room to grow, I’m expecting Revelations to be much better than this, which is a very tough feat.

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