The former grunge-god frontman of Soundgarden and more recent fourth of Audioslave kicks off his third solo album with a volley of horns, which gives way to the mumbled, hip-hop-inspired boasts of a computerized demon growling over sitar and Middle Eastern chanting. Soon producer Timbaland’s antiseptic bleeps and bloops kick in, and Cornell swaggers into the chorus, adamantly proclaiming, “No, that bitch ain’t a part of me.” Things only get odder from there.
While Cornell is no stranger to musical evolution, Scream takes the onetime alt-rocker through so many about-faces it’s dizzying. Though it’s impressive in its seamlessness, with one R&B-anchored pop trifle flowing into the next, there is very little heft below the shiny surface. Cuts like the regretful “Time” and romantic oath “Never Far Away” might even pass for legitimate dance tracks if they only possessed the slightest spark of heat.
But all manner of electro-squiggles, programmed instrumentation and vocal overdubs of laughingly trite lyrics fail to maintain traction. Even when Cornell’s resonating, long-soulful croon returns to its rightful place at the foreground of twofer “Get Up” and “Ground Zero,” it is soon browbeaten back into the mix by no less than a sampled baby’s cry. And to think Joaquin Phoenix has been the one taking all the “reinvention” flak.