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Grunge godfather Chris Cornell's show this Wednesday in Tel Aviv comes amid a time of creative regrouping for the iconic vocalist. But for those of us who became adults at the same time that hairspray went out of style, Cornell's misguided collaborations with Timbaland are readily forgivable.
The changing of the guitar rock guard in the early nineties represents a watershed event in the annals of popular music. The teased hair, pastel makeup and high-budget pyrotechnics of Sunset Strip glam heroes like Poison and Warrant were trumped by growling slacker-outsiders in blue flannel collars.
Because they were the first Seattle grunge act to be signed to a major label - and one of the last to achieve mainstream success - it's relatively easy to argue that Soundgarden's music served as a key link in this transition. The band's breakthrough album, 1994's appropriately titled Superunknown, which broke a full three years after "Smells Like Teen Spirit," still appears on those best-of-all-time lists regularly generated by critics and fans alike.
Soundgarden was fronted and co-founded by lead vocalist Chris Cornell, a man whose four-octave howl continues to trump Eddie Vedder's in tonal resonance and emotional range. As grunge was swallowed into the hit machine, killing off key talent in the process, Soundgarden collapsed, citing creative differences.
In contrast to the band's community of fans, Cornell looks back on the breakup with little to no bitterness. "I haven't received any phone calls from anyone in Soundgarden about a reunion since we broke up, nor have I called anyone," he told MTV two years ago. "We were happy with how it ended. There was no unfinished business."
THOSE CREATIVE differences made rock lovers nervous when word got out that Cornell was planning a low-key, singer-songwriter-style solo project, but he exceeded expectations with 1999's Euphoria Morning, a creative success primarily thanks to strong songwriting. But less than two years later, Cornell was forming a supergroup with Rage Against the Machine alumni.
Audioslave, as the band was called, remained active for seven years, despite the lukewarm reception its three studio releases received. With Rage reunited, one can only wonder what potential for greatness Audioslave might have had.
"For me to be satisfied, I think I need to be able to be on my own, in the long run," Cornell said of the split in the 2007 MTV interview, noting that his time away from the band had "produced a very prolific writing period, and getting back into writing songs on my own."
Bogged down by weak originals and a downright odd Michael Jackson cover, that year's solo effort Carry On was the first proper dud in Cornell's career. But at least he was booked to play a show in Tel Aviv last summer. When it was announced that the concert was canceled so that Cornell would be able to go back to the recording studio, local fans wondered if that was just an excuse.
But then came this past March's Scream, a new solo album produced by bubblegum pop hit-maker Timbaland. Although there's been a major anti-Cornell backlash in the wake of Scream's bold mainstream pop posturing, the tour dates in support of the disc included this week's Tel Aviv gig. So Israel-based contemporary rock fans ought not complain.
Although Scream has been represented heavily in Cornell's recent live setlists, it doesn't dominate, and plenty of classic Soundgarden cuts, stronger Audioslave material and even some Temple of the Dog and Led Zeppelin songs have made their way in.
When Paul McCartney played Tel Aviv this past fall, the tens of thousands of fans in attendance surely would've preferred to see the Beatles. But they didn't complain, instead citing the show as a peak concert experience. Chris Cornell's Soundgarden-less show has the potential to provide the same for the next generation.
Chris Cornell plays Tel Aviv's the New Exhibition Centre, this Wednesday evening, June 17, with the reunited classic Israeli guitar rock act Mashina opening. For more information, check out chriscornell.com or shuki.co.il
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