SOUNDGARDEN – DOWN ON THE UPSIDE (1996)

CHRIS CORNELL – EUPHORIA MORNING (1999)

September 21st, 1999, Chris Cornell released his debut solo album, Euphoria Morning, through Interscope Records. After a gruelling world tour in support of Soundgarden’s Down On The Upside album, exhaustion and internal strife led Cornell and company to announce their split in the spring of 1997. Chris had fronted Soundgarden since 1984; his initial post-Soundgarden days were uncertain, but a solo career seemed the most logical option. In 2015, Cornell explained his mindset after the band’s break-up. “It was pretty dark; I was going through a really difficult time in my life.” Nevertheless, he began stockpiling songs. 

More pressingly, in 1997, Chris was commissioned to write a solo song for the Great Expectations soundtrack. While struggling to find a direction for his solo project, two old friends re-entered Chris’ life—married couple Alain Johannes and Natasha Shneider—both gifted musicians and the heart of the band Eleven. Eleven had been among Soundgarden’s favourite tourmates, spending significant chunks of time opening the shows at the height of Soundgarden’s fame. 

Johannes and Shneider had built a home studio to record the next Eleven album, so when Cornell entered the mix, it took no time before they were recording. Up against a deadline for inclusion on the soundtrack, the trio wrote and recorded “Sunshower,” a beautifully poignant acoustic ballad. Cornell was uninterested in returning to a band setting where he’d have to compromise and bend to a democracy; nevertheless, he loved collaborating with Johannes and Shneider. Feeling inspired, Chris practically moved in with them. 

Johannes recalls, “Chris was living in our guest room, and we had the most chill, creative and no-pressure environment I can ever remember. We didn’t feel like working some days, so we would go to the movies or the beach. Sometimes, in the middle of a day off, Chris would have an idea, and we would fire up the studio. This went on for seven months; Chris would go home to Seattle at times for a week or two in between. Once the recording was complete, Chris went out and told everybody, “By the way, I did this recording, and my solo record is done.” He really trusted us because we had this connection.”

Between them, Cornell, Johannes and Shneider crafted a record rich in diversity that walked a highwire between beauty and darkness. But it could have all worked out so much differently. “Daniel Lanois was lined up to produce it,” Johannes explained, “After the demos were ready, Chris was supposed to go off with Daniel to make the record. All of a sudden, Daniel’s people called and said he was taking a break and cancelled all of his projects – this was two days before they were supposed to start recording.” 

Daniel Lanois is a legendary producer, having made albums with U2, Bob Dylan, Brian Eno, Peter Gabriel and Emmylou Harris, to name but a few. A collaboration between him and Cornell would have been exciting, but it wasn’t to be on this occasion. Left in the lurch by Lanois’ sudden disengagement, Chris was despondent. 

“Chris turned to us and said, “Now, what the fuck am I going to do?” Johannes recalls, “Natasha suggested we do it ourselves; we have all this equipment now, so let’s get started. We worked secretly, recording at the house and inviting certain people over, like Josh Freese, Jason Falkner, Matt Cameron and Ric Markmann.”

Cornell, as usual, nails some outstanding vocal performances throughout the album. Emboldened by the new musical setting, his voice perfectly lends itself to the hushed tones of his new surroundings. “I love the subtlety and humanity of a great singer,” Cornell said in 1999, “Thom Yorke from Radiohead, Elvis Costello, in terms of the quality of his voice, is an incredible singer; Tom Waits is a singer who has done things with his voice that no one has ever really done.” 

One shadow cast right across Euphoria Morning is that of Jeff Buckley. The gifted son of folk singer Tim Buckley released one of the greatest albums of the ’90s with 1994’s Grace. While working on the follow-up in Memphis, Buckley tragically died by accidental drowning while swimming in the Wolf River. 

Buckley and Cornell had become friends and admirers of each other’s talents. Both were, in many ways, mirror images of each other. They had talent to burn and were blessed with smouldering good looks; each had a penchant for jaw-droppingly unique songwriting. They were both incendiary live performers and, without a doubt, two of the most incredible voices in modern-day rock. 

“He was an amazing singer,” Chris said in 1999, “Jeff was a breath of fresh air in the music world. His album ‘Grace’ was a masterpiece that showcased his extraordinary vocal range and songwriting prowess. He brought a level of artistry and vulnerability that resonated with many, including myself.”

Before his death, Jeff Buckley spoke of his admiration of Soundgarden and Chris, “The grunge movement was a revelation. Bands like Soundgarden, with Chris Cornell’s powerhouse vocals, pushed the boundaries of what rock could be. It inspired me to explore the raw emotional depths of my own voice.”

The album opens with the first single, “Can’t Change Me.” Its dramatic eastern-tinged intro drops to a waltz as Cornell sings, “She can do anything at all, Have anything she pleases, The power to change what she thinks is wrong, What could she want with me?” When asked about the song’s subject matter by MTV, Chris said, “The idea of the song is a sad discovery. This person is involved with someone with extraordinary powers to help people and change things positively, and he realises that none of it is rubbing off on him.”

“Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament created “Flutter Girl’s” title as part of a joke tracklist for the character Cliff Poncier’s demo tape in Cameron Crowe’s 1992, Seattle-based film Singles. Cornell surprised Crowe by writing and recording full songs with the joke titles. The five-track Poncier EP includes the 1992 version of “Flutter Girl.” Cornell, Johannes and Shneider reworked the original demo into a rich soundscape of unusual sounds and a melancholy atmosphere. 

“Preaching The End Of The World” is filled with pathos and Beatles-esque flair. Lyrically, it’s rife with deep sadness, “Hello, I know there’s someone out there who can understand. And who’s feeling the same way as me? I’m twenty-four, and I’ve got everything to live for, but I know now that it wasn’t meant to be.” The verses of “Follow My Way” could pass for a long-lost Led Zeppelin acoustic track before the weight of the chorus kicks in. “When I’m Down” is a beautiful, dusty piano ballad. More Tom Waits than Harry Connick Jr. Shuffling drums compliment Natasha Shneider’s gorgeous barrel-house piano. 

“Mission” twists and turns with quirky vocal and guitar melodies, building into a euphoric gospel barn burner. “Wave Goodbye” was written by Chris as a tribute to Jeff Buckley after his passing. Chris intones, “And everywhere you think you see them, walking down the street when you miss somebody.” Featuring Cornell’s soaring vocals and a subtle acoustic guitar and piano accompaniment. The song’s powerful, direct approach is befitting the depth of the subject matter. The result is a song that manages to be both melancholic and uplifting simultaneously.

“Moon Child” cleverly adds psychedelic country guitar to a beautifully rich, mellow rocker. “Sweet Euphoria’s” acoustic panache thrives on clever divergent chord structures and Cornell’s heartfelt vocals. “Disappearing One” is another Beatle-esque number. It’s a gorgeous trippy ride through a stunning soundscape. 

The dusty blues of “Pillow Of Your Bones” shares a similar feel to Soundgarden’s “Burden In My Hand.” It’s dark but insistent infectiousness is gratifying and instantly demands repeat listening. Josh Freese’s exceptional drumming propels throughout. “Steel Rain” closes the album; Alain Johannes peals off a stunning guitar solo as Cornell’s refrain of “Steel Rain, is taking over” descends into swirling cascades of sound. 

Europhia Morning is a moment in time. It’s a snapshot of where its creators were at that transitional stage. Chris Cornell, Alain Johannes and Natasha Shneider’s bond is cut deep into the fibre of the record. After its release, Shneider and Johannes took the Euphoria Morning album on the road with Chris. All roads led to a follow-up solo album, but fate had other plans, with Chris forming Audioslave in 2001. 

Natasha and Alain went on to join Queens Of The Stone Age and delve into a myriad of other projects. Sadly, on July 2nd, 2008, Natasha passed away after a battle with cancer. A message on the Queens Of The Stone Age MySpace page announced her death: “On July 2nd, at 11:11 am, Natasha Shneider passed away. She ended her time in this life with the style and poetry she had lived all the days before, crossing over while held in the arms of her closest and dearest. No words can encapsulate the unwavering strength she provided, the adversities she overcame, the talents she possessed and nurtured, the sharpness of her wit, nor the beautiful complexity of her intellect. We are so thankful for her influence and the gift of her friendship.”

Alain Johannes describes his time making Euphoria Morning with Chris and Natasha, “Aside from everything I’ve done with Natasha, it’s the singular most powerful musical experience that I ever had. It was like a dream. I’ve been a part of so many other great records, but Euphoria Morning is as close to a masterpiece as possible. It’s on another level. Not just because of the music itself but also because of the human connection. When I listen to it, not only does it take me back to a powerful, painful and nostalgic feeling, but it also hits me in such a loving way. I remember both Chris and Natasha as the two most important people in my life.”

Essential…!