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Chris Cornell is at his best when he's leading a band, most people will tell you. Known primarily for his time fronting groups like Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog, and, until recently, Audioslave, most of the rock world is still adjusting to the sight of Cornell flying solo for the first time in years.
After announcing his departure from Audioslave in February, precipitating the sudden (but not entirely unexpected) demise of that band, Cornell dusted himself off and emerged with a new solo disc, Carry On, in June. On the album, Cornell goes for a more direct, dry-witted approach. He also indulges a love of vintage soul music that goes back to his childhood, resurrects Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" as a dirge-y modern-rock power ballad, and delivers the latest James Bond theme from the film Casino Royale all in one album.
It's a different, more mature sound than many people would have anticipated, and naturally, Cornell has learned to roll with his audience's expectations in concert as he shifts among the stages of his career.
"I don't really think there's anything that's off-limits," he says of his body of work. "I stick mostly to songs that I wrote in the Soundgarden era. And then going off from that occasionally here and there is fun. Personally, I want there to be participation when it comes to my live show. I want it to be what me and the audience agree are the songs that are the most exciting in a live setting. But there's nothing I would just write off and never do."
That established, longtime fans can eagerly await his show, wondering what old songs he'll dust off on any given night. Cornell is, in a sense, no longer the same artist who once electrified millions of troubled, gloom-obsessed 20-something males and showed unparalleled creative flair as he gripped their attention. He's a 43-year-old, happily married father, and, listening to his new material, one soon realizes that the alternative nation's King of Pain has pretty much left the building.
But that doesn't mean Cornell can't relate to his old material.
"I don't think I really have any different attitude toward it," he says. "When I'm playing [old] songs, I feel just as connected to it. I think songs are a time machine that way, because it's like other aspects of life — colors, smells — that trigger a memory. It's an immediate thing. I don't have to really search for who that person was that was thinking that way or feeling that way, because that person is definitely still there."