It’s been said before right here on this very web site: bad reviews are born of high expectations.
Lukewarm ones as well.
Quite a number of publications weighing in on the eponymous debut of Audioslave reached the same conclusion: pretty good but nowhere near the level of the members’ original bands.
Of course, those bands would be Rage Against the Machine and Soundgarden. The latter’s former singer joining the former’s instrumental core was an event of Frankensteinian proportions. And no less dramatic with news of management disputes, aborted tour plans and Internet purloining preceding the album’s release.
But now the project has been unveiled, the hype machine barely putting in a day’s work to get expectations ridiculously high.
And it’s all true — Audioslave really doesn’t rise up to Rage Against the Machine’s tension or Soundgarden’s bombast. If anything, Cornell and the former Rage guys cancel each other out.
That doesn’t mean Audioslave, the album, isn’t at least entertaining.
And here’s where the lowered expectations come in.
Audioslave is big rock record. Heck, it could even be called a big, dumb rock record.
Cornell’s larger-than-fucking-life voice was wasted on the acoustic singer-songwriter schlep he passed off on his solo album years back. He sounds far more at home with Tom Morello’s huge riffing.
Morello himself has made more interesting sonic wizardry — although he does perform some fascinating solos on “Bring ‘Em Back Alive” and “Hypnotize” — but with Cornell’s voice in the foreground, Morello opens himself up to more “non-pyrotechnical” options.
Like the acoustic guitar strumming on “I Am the Highway”. Or the stoner quiet of “The Last Remaining Light”. Or the almost Delta blues of “Getaway Car”.
The rhythm section of Brad Wilk and Tim Commerford do a fine job of grounding everything, but there isn’t much that shows either go above and beyond. This is pretty much Morello’s and Cornell’s show.
And Cornell does his part to push the band into writing for a singer. If anything, it’s what tamed Morello into playing more conventional riffs.
Even if the combined power of Soundgarden’s singer and Rage Against the Machine’s instrumentalists didn’t add up to the sum of its parts, it still resulted in a hulking rock ‘n’ roll record.
And that’s all anyone should expect.