After his last solo album, Scream, was poorly received by critics and fans, Chris Cornell decided to rediscover what launched him into the music business. He reformed his original band, Soundgarden, and they released a new album in 2012. Next, he decided to do the same in his solo career, returning to the rock style that made him great on Higher Truth. But instead of the hard driving style of Audioslave and some Soundgarden songs (“Superunknown,” “Spoonman”), he decided to pull back and do an acoustic-driven album. This was somewhat of a breath of fresh air, as a lot of rock artists don’t always regard acoustic as its own art form, rather only using it to do alternate takes of preexisting songs.
The album starts off with one of its best songs, “Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart,” which features a lot of different instruments, with violin making an appearance alongside another plucked string instrument whose sound I can’t place. Honestly, it’s probably just him plucking his guitar differently. The song’s mix and recording is very well-done, with each instrument’s part sounding clear and crisp. That sonic diversity shows up again in “Worried Moon,” which features the last instrument I ever expected to hear from Chris Cornell, a harmonica. He also incorporates the piano into some songs, but makes it sound different than is typical, such as in “Before We Disappear,” in which it has an almost organ-like quality.
The first song also sets another theme that recurs throughout the album. In it, the main character reflects a past bad experience that now appears to be repeating itself in a current experience, sapping his energy as he remembers how the past situation turned out. This theme repeats itself in other songs like “Dead Wishes,” “Through the Window,” and “Circling.” The title track seems to convey that the main character has learned from the past, and taking the moral high road is often more productive than putting out negative energy. The song reflects a maturity and evolution that perhaps has come to Cornell with the passage of time, building off the former half’s theme.
In general, the lyrics on Higher Truth seem to be less opaque and puzzling, more reminiscent of his Audioslave days than Soundgarden. As much as I like Soundgarden, their lyrics (especially on their latest album, King Animal), can get so weird that you often have no clue what they’re referring to. Some of the songs on Higher Truth are so straightforward as to be unmistakable (such as “Murderer of Blue Skies,” which is Cornell’s version of a breakup song), but most have just enough ambiguity to keep them interesting.
Higher Truth concludes with “Our Time in the Universe,” another of its best songs, as it captures the fast-paced style of Cornell’s past (there’s even a part where he breaks out the Soundgarden-style vocal wail), while still staying true to the rest of the album. This is one of those songs where all the instruments just seem perfectly in sync with each other and results in near-perfect execution.
All of this adds up to a solid effort that will probably please many more fans and critics than Scream did. The potential pitfall with acoustic albums is that they can get repetitive, and while Higher Truth isn’t immune to that, there’s enough interesting lyrics and sounds to keep the listener interested. I also like that while the instrumental parts are well-crafted and recorded, they still don’t crowd out Cornell’s vocals, and let him display his vast talent in that area. I’d rate this one as a borrow it. While I wouldn’t say it’s his best work, it’s a more consistent album than Scream and is a good companion to Carry On, which I believe to be his best solo album. Here are my track picks:
“Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart”
“Our Time in the Universe”