February 25, 2015
by Ric Albano
Audioslave was the merging, in the early 2000s, of some remnants of two defunct bands from the 1990s. Producer Rick Rubin was working with the three remaining members of the group, Rage Against the Machine, when he suggested ex-Soundgarden front man, Chris Cornell, as a potential lead vocalist. Guitarist Tom Morello and his bandmates were instantly impressed with Cornell’s ability and this new “supergroup” was born. The resulting self-titled debut album is an abundance of muscle and texture which usually works well and is satisfying to the listener.
In late 2000, lead vocalist Zack de la Rocha departed from Rage Against the Machine, effectively dissolving the band and its brand. However, the remaining three members; Morello, bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk, wanted to continue playing together. Through the ensuing months, the three jammed with several vocalists, but none were satisfactory. Following Soundgarden’s break-up in 1997 Cornell had pursued a solo career, releasing his debut album Euphoria Morning in 1999. He was planning on a second solo album when Rubin contacted him about this new opportunity. The chemistry between Cornell and the other three was immediate at the initial rehearsal and soon the quartet began writing original compositions.
They entered the studio in May 2001 and spent nearly a year recording a dozen and a half tracks and working on a live act, while still not having an official name. The group’s rollout was rocky with early rumors of a premature breakup and the leaking of rough cuts of recordings. It wasn’t until September 2002 that the band divulged their official name with the launch of their website ahead of the November release of the album. The album sold over 150,000 copies in its first week and was certified gold less than a month after its release.
Audioslave begins with a pure, standard on the hard-end of the rock spectrum with the opener “Cochise”, which was also the first single from the album. Morello’s main riff came accidently when he rapidly hit the strings with a pencil, producing a noise reminiscent of a helicopter. “Show Me How to Live” is more complex and interesting, displaying Morello’s inventive guitar techniques in a slight funk guitar rhythm, with some added sound effects and a long drum roll by Wilk coming out of the bridge until it explodes into the final verse. “Gasoline” is driven by Commerford’s bass line and an almost synth sounding guitar effect during the verses. The song’s title and theme seems to be an alternate and more raw take on “burning the midnight oil” and the track has an interesting bridge and solo section, which plays with dynamics and production techniques.
The very nineties/alternative sounding “What You Are” features more wild sound effects in the bridge section. The final single released from this album, the song peaked at number 17 on the U.S. Modern Rock Tracks chart in 2004. With tremolo guitars rounded by direct bass notes through the verses, “Like a Stone” builds moderately throughout but never really explodes like some of the other tracks. Morello employs an overload effect reminiscent to a theramin during the lead section, which is followed by a nice, acoustic-driven final verse. The song was nominated for the 2004 Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance.
“Set It Off” starts with rapidly-picked, deadened guitar notes drenched in heavy effects before the track breaks into a heavy, classic-rock sounding song with chant-able vocal hooks. The real highlights from “Shadow on the Sun” are Commerford’s verse notes and Cornell’s strained vocals during the choruses and the desperate outro, while “I Am the Highway” starts with good sustain effects, similar to those used by Eddie Van Halen on the 1982 track “Cathedral” before it breaks into a an almost Outlaw Country rhythm and feel with some acoustic and twangy electric guitars above a direct and steady rhythm. The next two songs highlight the rhythm section of Audioslave, with “Exploder” led by the funky bass of Commerford and “Hypnotize” driven by the animated drum beat of Wilk, in the otherwise laid back song.
In total, Audioslave is probably about four or five songs too long, with the album’s later songs suffering from a lack of freshness. “Bring Em’ Back Alive” starts with piercing and eerie picked guitar phrase before breaking into a pure heavy metal slow-jam and also uses heavy effects on Cornell’s voice. “Light My Way” contains pre-verse effects which are almost funk but droning vocals kind of drag down the desired effect. “Getaway Car” may be the only track on the album that can be classified as a quasi-ballad, with an almost jazzy feel and a pure bluesy guitar lead by Morello, making it the real highlight of the latter part of the album. The album closes with the dark-feeling and steady, “The Last Remaining Light”, a song which comes close to Soundgarden’s music with slow and deliberative phrases led by several differing guitar textures and intense later choruses, which work to end the album on a high note.
Audioslave reached the Top 10 in several countries and was eventually certified triple platinum in sales. The band successfully toured the world in 2003, and would go on to record two more studio albums before disbanding in 2007.