All metal singers should age as gracefully as Chris Cornell. The former frontman for Seattle grunge band Soundgarden is a few years north of 40, and rather than exult in rock-and-roll's promise of eternal youth, he imbues his songs with a welcome note of restraint.
That's not to say that the man who once opened for Danzig on tour has gone soft. A few of the songs on Mr. Cornell's second solo album snarl and fume as much as anything on the mega-selling Soundgarden album "Superunknown."
More than anything, "Carry On" is a showcase for Mr. Cornell's prodigious, agile voice. It is the lead instrument on every track. He combines astonishing range with rich timbre that he can vary on the fly. On the soulful "Safe and Sound," Mr. Cornell plays off the guitar with a touch of ragged tremolo, rising octaves above the melody to hit high notes here and there. On the opening track "No Such Thing," he accentuates the driving metal chords and agitated guitar fills with a loud, smooth vocal line.
"You Know my Name" was the signature song for the most recent James Bond film, "Casino Royale." Lyrically, Mr. Cornell offers exactly the mixture of earnestness and camp that the aging film franchise demands, opening with a typical Bondian non sequitur: "If you take a life, do you know what you give? Odds are you won't like what it is when the storm arrives."
He gives a gritty, understated vocal performance that meshes well with the hyper-driving drum line. His voice is perfectly suited to the demands of the Bond song, able to rise and fall effortlessly; to snarl at one moment and purr the next.
Mr. Cornell brings a weird intensity to his cover of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean." Slowing the song down to half-time, Mr. Cornell assays the hit rhythm and blues number with the kind of manic passion that Eric Burden brought to "House of the Rising Sun." The arrangement is quite beautiful, with stray acoustic bass notes creeping out mid-measure, against an eerie whistle of synth and a gently plucked guitar, all building to a rumbling, raucous chorus.
The tone and mood of the songs range from the arena rockish "Poison Eye" to the plaintive, twangy "Finally Forever" to the alterna-pop of "She'll Never be Your Man." Despite the varied genres and changing instrumentation, "Carry On" has a singular feel, thanks to the constant presence of Mr. Cornell's durable singing voice.
By John Solomon
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