Words By: Gerrod Harris
Release Date: September 18th, 2015, via Universal
Chris Cornell has had one of the most diverse musical careers. Who would have ever thought that the voice which lead one of Seattle’s heaviest bands, Soundgarden, and later the hard rock super group, Audioslave, would find another niche in solo acoustic music? After three studio solo albums, each one a little less exciting than the previous-1999’s Euphoria Morning was a true classic, but Scream, his pop collaboration with Timberland was quite the opposite- Cornell embarked on a solo acoustic tour in 2011, which proved to be highly successful, and led to him releasing Songbook, an incredible live record from the tour. Since then he has done more acoustic tours when not working with Soundgarden, but his latest solo album, Higher Truth, while not entirely unplugged, was created in a similar tone to that of his acoustic shows.
“Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart”, the lead single, showcases an intricate style of song writing, but does not sacrifice its catchiness. The song does a great job of building upon each musical piece, starting with a repetitive mandolin line, which continues for nearly the whole track, soon to be buried beneath various acoustic and electric guitars, drums and percussion, strings, and Cornell. At a first listen to, there will almost certainly be many small details which you will miss, but it seems with each play through, I’m hearing a new part, adding a new depth to the song. This is a common phenomenon throughout Higher Truth.
“Murderer Of Blue Skies” truly builds up from its acoustic intro towards a heavier section, with an intensely dark guitar solo which continues under the final chorus as Cornell roars above it. Much like how Cornell makes great use of the small details, he also does a near flawless job of shifting the mood of a song, much like in the title track, “Higher Truth” which feels timid and sorrowful at times, while triumphant at others. “Circling” also follows this trend as its chord progressions jump between major and minor keys and gently finger picked guitar to fuzzy distorted chords. Cornell embraces his admiration for Neil Young on “Bend In The Road”, a slow and swaying acoustic ballad which even features a harmonica solo. “Our Time In The Universe” fuses a number of pop textures along with a reoccurring Middle Eastern inspired motif, making for an interesting combination, one which may be hit and miss with some fans at first, but it certainly will grow on you. It is probably the weakest song on Higher Truth, but that says much about the record as a whole as it isn’t a bad song in the least, it just isn’t as good as the rest. My favourite track on the record would be the very simple “Josephine”, a love song written for his wife and features great melodic vocal lines weaving between his crisp steel string acoustic guitar.
Inspired greatly by folk music, Cornell strays stylistically from where you may know him best. This is not anything like his work with Soundgarden or Audioslave. That, however; does not take away from Higher Truth, a record which channels from the depths of Cornell’s soul and is delivered in what almost sounds like an intimate, and private performance. It’s simply a beautiful record. Naturally, it pairs well with 2011’s Songbook due to the sonic similarities, but it also greatly resembles his song writing style on Euphoria Morning, especially due to the use of quiet and thin, sometimes psychedelic electric guitars. It is safe to say that Higher Truth rests between the two albums as a slightly more unplugged and more matured Euphoria Morning. With each song that plays, the album grows in musical depth, and what may have appeared to the skeptics as a gimmick to win over the younger indie crowd is heard as a highly sophisticated and rather masterful take on a recently overdone style. Cornell takes the singer-songwriter genre, which has become overpopulated with just about anyone who claims to be an artist because they can strum on an acoustic guitar, and completely rejuvenates the style through his use of various folk and rock elements and interesting instrumentation choices, all of which gains momentum in its subtlety. Little by little, many songs go from two tracks, an instrument and vocal, and develop into a much grander experience. It is all the intricate nuances that bring a collection of songs to life. The removal of distortion and guitar solos traditionally associated with his past musical ventures allow for Cornell to grow as a song writer and truly shine as a vocalist. He has always had a reputation for his incredible vocal and compositional capabilities, but he achieves new heights as a solo artist on Higher Truth.
1: Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart
2: Dead Wishes
3: Worried Moon
4: Before We Disappear
5: Through The Window
7: Murder Of Blue Skies
8: Higher Truth
9: Let Your Eyes Wander
10: Only These Words
12: Our Time In The Universe
13: Bend In The Road
14: Wrong Side
15: Misery Chain
16: Our Time In The Universe (Remix)