Despite the fact that Chris Cornell is my favorite male vocalist of all time — the Cranberries’ Dolores O’Riordan is my favorite female vocalist, in case you’re wondering — I have never paid any attention to his entirely unremarkable solo career. Although his first post-Soundgarden album, 1999‘s Euphoria Morning, is supposed to be pretty good, his post-Audioslave albums were more critically pulverized than Audioslave itself, with 2009‘s Scream getting particularly annihilated. Now, of course, Cornell is back in Soundgarden, which reformed in 2010 and released a very good album in 2012, King Animal. Since Soundgarden’s drummer Matt Cameron joined Pearl Jam after the band’s initial split in 1997 and Cameron now has to split his time between the two, that leaves Cornell with plenty of time to once again attempt a respectable solo career.
Wisely, for 2015‘s Higher Truth, Cornell has partnered with alternative rock super producer Brendan O’Brien, who is very good at getting the best out of artists and is perhaps best known for having produced or mixed nearly every Pearl Jam album. He also brought Bruce Springsteen‘s career back from the dead with The Rising in 2002 and also produced the Boss’s subsequent ’00s albums Devils & Dust (2005), Magic (2007), and Working on a Dream (2009). Here, O’Brien opts for a pretty direct sound, mixing Cornell’s vocals up front and giving the acoustic guitars and mandolins a shiny polish. It’s not the most interesting sound, but it’s a more than serviceable one, considering the softer material present throughout — fans of grunge won’t find much here that sonically resembles Cornell’s Soundgarden heyday.
There are two pretty great songs on Higher Truth, the mandolin-driven opener “Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart” and the almost cinematic closer “Our Time in the Universe,” which neatly bookend the album. In between, there are some good ones like “Dead Wishes” and especially “Worried Moon,” but the rest tend to pass by without leaving much of an impression, despite being pleasant enough. In the end, Higher Truth is a solid effort and a step in the right direction for Cornell, but its songs are ultimately too alike in sound and tempo — those not into acoustic rock will get bored quickly. Even if the productions do provide plenty of space for one of rock’s greatest vocalists to do good work — and vocally, Cornell’s performing here is top-notch — I ultimately wanted a bit more here from the songwriting. Frankly, most of these songs will just fade, which is too bad, since if there were a little more sonic variety, Higher Truth could have been a really great comeback for Cornell, but instead it will have to settle for merely being solid.