RIP: Chris Cornell

Posted May 18, 2017 by J Matthew Cobb in Features

Soundgarden and Audioslave frontman dies at the age of 52

chriscornell-01Described as one of the greatest rock voices of his generation, Chris Cornell died at the age of 52. The frontman of Soundgarden and Audioslave was found dead and unresponsive in his hotel bathroom at the MGM Grand Hotel after performing to a sold-out crowd at Detroit’s Fox Theatre. Most reports have indicated that the cause of death was ruled a suicide. The Associated Press further went into graphic detail in their reporting, stating that the rock star died “by hanging.”

Cornell rose to fame as one of the torchbearers of the 1990’s grunge scene once the Seattle rock band Soundgarden left the Sub Pop label in the late ’80’s. With two EPs to their name, they landed a Grammy nomination for their debut album Ultramega OK in 1990. Signing with A&M, becoming one of the first grunge bands to sign to a major label, Soundgarden joined the ranks of other successful Seattle bands like Alice in Chains, Nirvana and Pearl Jam with leading radio singles, “Jesus Christ Pose,” “Outshined” and “Rusty Cage.” Their videos were also a major draw on MTV, elevating their sound and music to a wider audience. 1994’s Superunknown would become the band’s breakthrough moment, shooting to number one on the Billboard 200. “Spoonman” and the booming ballad “Black Hole Sun” helped push Soundgarden into international acclaim, producing quintuple platinum success by the RIAA and even several Grammy wins.

soundgarden-picAfter their 1996 album Down on the Upside, Soundgarden announced their disbandment. Cornell would turn his attention towards a solo career, pushing out his first solo album Euphoria Morning (1999). Although it was a bit of a departure from Soundgarden’s sound and failed to measure up commercially with their previous works, Cornell — now placed in a more rustic folk rock and ’60’s psychedelic presence — produced the Grammy-nominated “Can’t Change Me” and a fitting tribute to the late Jeff Buckley (“Wave Goodbye”). Cornell also had his handling on co-writing the James Bond theme song “You Know My Name” for 2006’s Casino Royale.

He continued to work on solo albums, including the Steve Lillywhite-produced Carry On and the acoustic live album Songbook until Audioslave, a supergroup designed by former Rage Against the Machine members Tom Morello, Brad Wilk and Tim Commerford Zack de la Rocha, was formed. The group pulled off major success with their first two albums (Audioslave, Out of Exile), while showcasing Cornell’s talent as a lyricist. Much of all of Audioslave’s lyrics were composed entirely by Cornell. He would later leave the group in early 2007, eventually returning to Soundgarden. Hardly any new music came from Soundgarden until “Live to Rise,” a track for the Avengers motion picture soundtrack, dropped in 2012. In late 2012, a new album surfaced (King Animal). Talks about a seventh album with Soundgarden were on the table, but Cornell’s passing has thwarted those dreams.

In the days to come, the story surrounding his mysterious death will eclipse much of his musical accomplishments, his powerful voice and career highlights. This is still a developing story, but what will remain in stone will be Cornell’s glorious voice, one that included a near four octave range and full of passion, grit and effortless wonder.

According to worldwide music publications, Cornell landed on many “best of” lists. He was voted “Rock’s Greatest Singer” by readers of Guitar World, ranked fourth in the list of “Heavy Metal’s All-Time Top 100 Vocalists” by Hit Parader, ninth on the list of “Best Lead Singers of All Time” by Rolling Stone, and twelfth in MTV’s “22 Greatest Voices in Music”.

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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