The first time I heard Chris Cornell’s voice, it was like getting a high five from God: the force and might that it hit with you with seemed something otherworldly. As a singer, Cornell was a sort of Frankenstein in the best possible sense: he could wail like Robert Plant or Steven Tyler, belt like Freddie Mercury or Paul McCartney, croon like Smokey Robinson, and emote as convincingly as Sinatra; his stylistic range ran the gamut from his signature rock belting to soul to blues to folk. Best of all, Cornell used these traits to create a style distinctly his own, an imitable instrument that influenced the future and forced the past to step up their game.
Vocally and as a writer, Cornell stood head and shoulders above his compatriots in the grunge scene: Weiland sang as good as him, Vedder wrote as good as him, and Cobain and Staley captured emotions as well as him, but no one could do it all like he could. To hear Chris at his absolute peak, one needn’t look further than 1991, when he released Badmotorfinger with Soundgarden and Temple of the Dog with the short lived supergroup of the same name; songs like “Slaves and Bulldozers,” “Jesus Christ Pose,” and “Say Hello 2 Heaven” rank among the finest vocals the human voice has ever produced, filled with soul and power. The next five years were filled with incredible highlights showcasing his talent, soul and versatility: “Birth Ritual,” “Black Hole Sun,” “Like Suicide,” “Pretty Noose,” “Blow Up the Outside World,” and so much more.
After Soundgarden broke up and the grunge scene faded, Cornell adapted accordingly, releasing the brilliant and pitifully underrated Euphoria Mourning in 1999; songs like “Can’t Change Me, “When I’m Down,” and “Wave Goodbye” showed a mature, introspective and quieter side to his artistry that wasn’t appreciated at the time. In 2003, he formed Audioslave with Tom Morello, introducing his beastly voice to new generations with songs like “Gasoline,” “Like a Stone,” and “Doesn’t Remind Me.” He also recorded You Know My Name for the 2006 James Bond revival Casino Royale, expanding his audience and influence further.
In 2010, Cornell reunited with Soundgarden, returning to the sound that made him famous; though his high range weakened slightly, he still sang with the same soul and verve as in his prime. The last decade of his life, however, were defined by his transcendent acoustic shows; during these, he ascended to the realm of ‘troubadour,’ commanding the stage with just his voice, his guitar, and his unique charisma, humor, and stories. Knowing what new ground he was covering and how vibrant, active and seemingly happy he seemed to be makes Cornell’s death (ruled a suicide as of now) all the more shocking and tragic. He was a once in a lifetime talent. I’m just glad it was my lifetime.
“No one sings like you anymore.”