Chris Cornell stretched into the unknown on Euphoria Mourning
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
There’s so much music. And of course there is. A lot is ultimately forgettable and forgotten. Some if it is amazing, and within that group, some reveal themselves immediately and others burrow away for years, stating their piece early and letting the listener cycle back around for its inevitable rediscovery years later.
Here we find Euphoria Mourning, Chris Cornell’s first solo album which was recently rereleased, with its title corrected back to its original spelling, rather than the Euphoria Morning CD I held in 1999. It arrived in a crowded landscape, following Soundgarden’s breakup and just before the industry collapsed after the weight of its own greed was kicked out from underneath by the burgeoning internet. Within this space, Cornell took 50 minutes and 12 songs to craft a layered, challenging record that didn’t meet the likely unreasonable expectations of the time.
That’s not to suggest that Euphoria Mourning was some kind of commercial flop. “Can’t Change Me” and “Mission” (thanks to the latter’s after-the-fact connection to a Mission Impossible sequel) both found time on the radio and helped the record perform respectably on the charts. But apart from two songs that were generally palatable to a mass audience, this was not an album intended to seriously rival the dreck that infested radio in the late 1990s. This was his first trip alone, and he wanted to explore the new sonic space allowed.
If the pulverizing crunch of Soundgarden is missing, it’s not all unfamiliar territory. “Pillow of Your Bones” keeps many of the same dynamics that his band explored on its later albums, with a drive that sometimes resembles a gallop, pulling into the chorus with a little more urgency each time. But this album wasn’t about how to best emulate Soundgarden by himself, and he takes the opportunity to stretch himself out.
This solo freedom is explored to haunting effect on “Sweet Euphoria,” recorded at home and presented unadorned on the album’s second side. A sonic cousin to his earlier “Seasons” from 1992’s Singles soundtrack, he ruminates on some unexplained lost love or lingering pain accompanied only by his guitar, creating the effect of being stranded on a field while the emotionless hazards of nature swoop in and around him.
That kind of backing seems to be a priority on the rest of the album, an effort to create a soundscape without actually drafting in found noise or sound effects. Immediately following “Sweet Euphoria” is “Disappearing One,” with its guitars and keys occasionally creating a sound mimicking a New Orleans funeral march. His voice soars as the song takes off towards its conclusion, another reminder of his still-impressive range as a vocalist.
That’s on even greater display on the album’s closer, “Steel Rain.” Over a bed of guitars, Cornell’s voice rises to its greatest heights, with his vocals acting as its own fuzz pedal on the highest peaks. Again creating an effect that quadrophonic engineers of the 1970s could only dream, the sound rolls over and around the listener to almost hypnotizing effect. The best of his music had this effect — having this unique and powerful voice doesn’t hurt — and he waits until the record’s conclusion to unleash this vehicle.
Interestingly, the song that may sum up this period of Cornell’s work better than any doesn’t appear on this album. “Sunshower” was his graceful ballad, summing up all the angst and longing he’d expressed in his career with Soundgarden but channeled instead through softer, layered guitars which slowly build into a crashing climax, then drift slowly down to earth, with his voice soaring above it all. It’s a nearly six-minute journey that feels as if it could play for hours, and it displayed a path Cornell hadn’t yet traveled.
That was released ahead of Euphoria Mourning on the soundtrack to Great Expectations, and served as an introduction to Cornell as a full-time solo artist. If no individual song on this album meets the heights “Sunshower” set, it displays its range in the aggregate, spread out over 12 songs that were crafted in the wake of Soundgarden’s collapse.
More than 15 years later, they all carry a new resonance, placed back within the context of his career and greeted with fresh ears. If the album was never intended to climb to the top of the charts but instead to create a slow burn that buries itself within the listener, it finally happened. That journey may have taken longer than he expected, but he made it.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org