You can’t really blame Chris Cornell for putting some distance between his last studio release (the unfortunate collaboration with Timbaland, Scream) and the next. Five years have passed since Cornell was last ripped to shreds by critics, and in that time he has definitely backtracked to the rock ’n’ roll genre from whence he came. Following a successful reunion of his Seattle grunge outfit Soundgarden, and his well received Songbook tour and live album, the latest offering from Cornell is Higher Truth.
An acoustic rock record, produced by Brendan O’Brien, Higher Truth predominantly features Cornell’s vocals backed by acoustic guitar. His voice is as distinctive as ever, and as wonderful to listen to. Effortlessly gritty yet smooth and always edging towards a scream, vocals that have carried Cornell throughout his career. Opening track Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart perfectly illustrates how his voice can carry across even sparser arrangements. This first song is actually one of the richer tracks in terms of instrumentation, featuring a folky mandolin and an electric guitar solo. Unfortunately it also sets the tone for the album in that it never quite hits home.
Whether too grounded in the 90’s nostalgia, or whether the moment for acoustic rock has passed, Higher Truth fails to excite on the whole. You could be forgiven for thinking you might have heard it before, listening to the pensive acoustic guitar on Dead Wishes it could be from the Rockstar soundtrack. Which isn’t necessarily a criticism, but possibly not what Cornell was aiming for. There is definitely a warmth that comes across the record though, and a few stand out tracks. Worried Moon balances the acoustic style with Cornell’s rock leanings and Josephine is a beautifully simple love song. The melody is straightforward but more in the vein of Temple Of The Dog, and Cornell does bring out some other great moments. The ending of Murderer Of Blue Skies builds to a crescendo that has some meat to it and is all the better for it, and other tracks like Wrong Side also benefit from some fleshing out.
Lyrically, Higher Truth promises a good foundation for Cornell’s usual style – evocative yet slightly out of reach. And whether the sense of exploration and confession has lead to a more straight on approach, it does feel like this album lacks that subtlety. And it is definitely uncertain as to whether Cornell really does reach a higher truth. There is plenty of soul searching, but whether a higher truth can be found in twelve tracks remains to be seen.