Maybe it was inevitable that after years of playing sidekick to Kim Thayil's Led Zeppelin 3-Sabbath Bloody Sabbath riffs, Chris Cornell would decide to turn it down his first time out as Solo Artist. Turn it way down too: Euphoria Morning gets so quiet that at times it sounds like quality demos made by the hard-rocker-next-door who didn't want to wake the neighbors -- or, in other words, metal ballads. Then, what else do you expect from a Sub Pop refugee who sings with as much finesse as any Robert Plant stand-in raised on Blue Cheer? Too bad tinny acoustic guitars and eyes-shut-tight vocals go together like Ann and Nancy Wilson. Histrionics and subtlety -- all hail the new MOR.
Too bad too, since Soundgarden's 1994 Superunknown was a modern-day metal spectacle (make no mistake, "Black Hole Sun" is this decade's "Misty Mountain Hop"), and 1996's Down on the Upside was a stringent fuck-off-and-farewell built upon the rickety rawk of "Ty Cobb" and the world-beat radiance of "Dusty." But Euphoria Morning is about as gratifying as a Robert Plant solo record: It sounds like a pale imitation of what used to be. And it offers the final bit of evidence, as though any were needed, that Soundgarden's alleged meta-metal (so said Spin, hah) was always retro metal, meaning it didn't "comment" on yesterday's hard rock as much as it merely aspired to imitate it. If nothing else, this one should inspire heated debates among the faithful over whose band Soundgarden was -- Thayil's, most likely, though don't discount the rhythm section, which hammered out a Promethean roar even during the more, ah, subtle moments. From "Spoonman" to butter knife in five short years.
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Then again, I can't get past the lyric sheet, which would be easily avoidable if Cornell didn't wring the life out of every syllable. Turns out all those songs about serial killers and deviants were just macho posturing for the long-haired set. He's Tough Guy no more, just another reformed punk looking to get in touch with the sensitive guy within. Hence, songs titled "Moonchild" and "Steel Rain"; hence, lots of lyrics that rhyme. Most indicative and most indicting: "Sweet Euphoria mine is the heart you own / You lost the grace of the hands that harmed you / In the daze of a thousand yawns / Lost my love, as it is I'm truly gone." The lyrics abound with metaphors as overwrought as the vocals delivering them: "Lonesome as gold in a poor man's smile" and "like a painted fever in recoil," the latter of which I had to have a junior-high poetry class decipher for me. Bonus points: Cornell compares himself to a crucified Christ.