- The Washington Times - Monday, December 27, 1999

Chris Cornell hasn't undergone a recent religious conversion, but the former lead singer of Soundgarden has been born again.

At least he has musically, as the melodic, emotionally revealing pop-rock songs on his first solo album demonstrate.

That album, the carefully crafted "Euphoria Morning," sounds almost nothing like Soundgarden, the pioneering Seattle quartet that helped spark the grunge-rock revolution of the early 1990s. Mr. Cornell, who fronted Soundgarden from its inception in 1987 until its demise in 1996, couldn't be happier with his new artistic lease on life.

"Everything that happened musically on this album, in its entirety, was my decision," Mr. Cornell says. "In a band, it's a democratic situation where there will be a song or two that you wouldn't have put on an album if it had been your choice alone. And that goes for everyone in the band; that's what makes it a band. What makes this album different is that it's entirely what I wanted, and that's liberating."

But flying solo for the first time without Soundgarden wasn't easy, as Mr. Cornell, 35, is quick to concede.

"With a band, you look at a sound that you create together. And you have an idea of what that sound is and write together. You have a perception to begin with," he says, speaking from a recent tour stop in Cleveland.

"As a solo artist, not having created a character that is me apart from the band, it's difficult to know what kinds of songs I should sing. That came from sitting in a room and writing a lot of songs, and finding what I was comfortable with. So I wrote several songs that didn't make it on to my album, songs that were created in a period of experimentation."

What this Seattle native is comfortable with on "Euphoria Morning" are shimmering, thoughtfully constructed songs. Most of them were written on acoustic guitar as vehicles to showcase Mr. Cornell's versatile singing.

His lyrics are as moody as ever in places. His new songs, however, showcase the range, flexibility and nuances of his voice in ways he could only imagine while in Soundgarden. His album's multilayered, sometimes baroque arrangements owe a great debt to the Beatles, circa 1969.

"Yeah, that was the first band I was really a huge fan of," Mr. Cornell says of the Fab Four.

"I was 9 when I started listening to them, and it was probably my first period of realizing music would be really important to me as a listener."

Where Soundgarden's guitar-driven music was often dark and full of punkish angst and heavy-metal-tinged fury, "Euphoria Morning" is lighter and more understated. What results are such songs as the melancholic "Preaching the End of the World" and the lilting "Can't Change Me," the album's opening cut and its first single.

"From the beginning, I was sure it would throw some Soundgarden fans for a loop," Mr. Cornell says of his move to a softer, more sophisticated musical realm. "Or that maybe they would already realize before they heard it that it would be different. And I've had that feeling before, having written songs [in a style] that Soundgarden wasn't noted for."

Such as the churning "Black Hole Sun," from "Superunknown," Soundgarden's stylistically ambitious 1994 album?

"Sure," replied the dark-haired singer-guitarist, who also confirmed that his debut solo album is earning him new fans.

"I already know that for a fact, just from people who have approached me after shows on my [solo] tour, or out on the street," he says. "These people say to me: 'I didn't like Soundgarden, but I like this album.' And that's a victory."

Mr. Cornell is proud of his work with his former group, which preceded Nirvana and Pearl Jam as the first Seattle band to make a major impact early in this decade. He speaks fondly of his former Soundgarden band mates lead guitarist Kim Thayil, bassist Ben Shepherd and erstwhile San Diego drummer Matt Cameron, who has since toured with Pearl Jam and also performs on "Euphoria Morning."

"It's very exciting when you're really young, and you suddenly realize you have a talent," Mr. Cornell says. "And it's exciting to also realize that, not only can you re-create other people's music, but there's a spark you get from doing your own.

"Starting Soundgarden was a very lucky break for me. And we were like-minded, in terms of our autonomy and putting our music before any other aspect before sales, before marketing, before anything.

"The only real negative aspect is that when you concentrate so much on your autonomy, and what you do as an art form, you get used to that. And then when you get involved in the business side of that promoting your album, which you spent a lot of time creating you have to get involved with another aspect, which none of us was comfortable with. And that includes being a public persona, where you have to expose yourself."

Mr. Cornell also found himself caught between Soundgarden's quest to be widely heard and the alternative-rock scene's initial (and sometimes hypocritical) rejection of fame and fortune.

"There's a point where I got really irritated with band after band going for depressing themes, or aggressive themes, or ironic themes, just because it was considered cool," he says. "I found myself taking certain chords and words out of songs, because I found it divisive [to use them]. There are certain words now that everyone is using to attempt to be the most aggressive, or sociopathic or ironic.

"I don't think there are too many young rock bands who are writing themes I haven't thought of, or ironies I haven't thought of. I don't want to write down to anybody, basically. So I had to address subjects that were more introspective.

"Am I happy? Right now, I'm fairly content.

"But," he added with a wry chuckle, "that's just within this hour of this day."

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