Bye-bye, Grunge

Trading in his grooves for sensitivity, Chris Cornell concentrates on using his voice as his primary instrument.

Former Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell had the good sense to break up the grunge kings three years ago. But then he displayed a serious lack of judgment last fall when he released his solo debut, Euphoria Morning, at a time when absolutely nobody cared anything about alternative rock anymore. A Best Male Vocal Performance Grammy nomination for "Can't Change Me" notwithstanding, Cornell didn't triumph with Morning as he should have.

Soundgarden's circular riffs and monolithic rhythms showed that, at heart, the band was groove-based, raised on Black Sabbath. It wasn't a serious, dour grungemeister outfit. With Morning, Cornell trades the groove for a sensitive singer-songwriter approach. The result -- a mellow, psychedelic classic rock record -- isn't quite the failure its sales might suggest. Cornell's strength has never been songwriting. (Remember "Spoonman?") It's in capturing vibes and projecting emotion through his amazing voice. He is sometimes better off singing a single vocal phrase than a whole tune. His elegy to buddy Jeff Buckley, "Wave Goodbye," is a bit too heavy on the cornball wa-wa guitar, but when Cornell howls, imitating Buckley's lonesome falsetto, he nails the emotion he has spent four minutes chasing. And his live show is certainly more entertaining than Morning suggests. The songs are presented forcefully, and he uses his voice to great dramatic effect. -- David Simutis

Chris Cornell performs Friday, March 3, at the Aerial Theater at Bayou Place, 520 Texas Avenue, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 and $23.50. For more information, call (713)629-3700.

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