Thursday, September 07, 2006

Audioslave Revelations

I love Audioslave. Their first two albums combined what was great about Soundgarden and Rage Against the Machine. Their concert last year was one of the best I've ever seen. And now I've finished their third album.

This band has always struggled to reconcile their two halves. The first album sounded like Chris Cornell singing with Rage Against the Machine. That may sound obvious but they barely sounded like they were in the same room. "Out of Exile" was better with equal contributions from all four members. At the time, I proclaimed their third album would be the one where their identity really came to the fore.

Was I wrong? A little. With few exceptions (the second half goes a little 'Superunknown') this record doesn't sound like Soundgarden or Rage. But it still doesn't sound like them. Audioslave has left their own catalogs but now they dip into Led Zeppelin and Smokey Robinson's. This album has a swing to it I didn't expect. The rhythm section has been listening to more Funk Brothers than Public Enemy this time. "Original Fire" is the 21 Century's "Going to a Go Go". There. I'm the first one to say it.

The playing and the production is again fantastic. Brendan O'Brien brings grittiness to a sound that Rick Rubin had polished. Tom Morello's guitar is the ugliest it's ever been. It sounds like the tubes in his Marshall are about to go on every song. He breaks his own riff style in favor of four chord acoustic verses that were the pride of Seattle. But his solos are the most nostalgic. Hear him dig into the whammy and wah pedal simultaneously on "Original Fire" and you'll think you're in the "Battle of Los Angeles" again.

The songs have less hooks but are somehow catchier. I dare you not to sing the chorus to "Revelations" the second time it comes around. And Chris Cornell's voice has rarely been stronger. He tends to write melodies he can only hit on his best days. Sounds like there were some good days in the sound booth. And thank God he saved his Katrina tribute for what was already the best song on the album ("Wide Awake"). The muscular drive of that song keeps his lyrics from becoming preachy and sappy.

I defend Audioslave regularly. A band with this much power can't be dismissed so easily. I just wish they'd come together into a cohesive whole. I've been waiting three albums now.

Hey Barton, what do you think?

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