Sometimes in music, the weirder the collaboration, the wilder the result is. When two people from contrasting worlds come together to create art with two completely different musical stylings, they can unlock a new magical side within each other. Suddenly, something on paper which shouldn’t work creates a stunning masterpiece. However, that isn’t always the case as the late Chris Cornell’s collaboration with Timbaland proves.
The album that the two artists made together was 2009 effort Scream, which sounded like nothing like anything that Chris Cornell had ever made before. The Soundgarden frontman jumped in with two feet into the world of R&B infused pop that Timbaland had helped dominate the charts in the late noughties — the producer even enlisted his friend Justin Timberlake to collaborate with Cornell on the track ‘Take Me Alive’. Fans of Soundgarden were shocked to hear such a drastic departure from Cornell, and it’s fair to say that the critics weren’t much kinder.
Some people went too far with their criticism, with Nine Inch Nails maestro Trent Reznor taking to social media to vent: “You know that feeling you get when somebody embarrasses themselves so badly YOU feel uncomfortable? Heard Chris Cornell’s record? Jesus.” Reznor did eventually admit that he overstepped the mark with his comment and even wrote Cornell a handwritten apology before Nine Inch Nails went on a joint headline tour with Soundgarden in 2014.
Reznor later opened up to Rolling Stone: “Seeing Chris do that record felt like a blow to me. I thought, ‘He’s above that, man. He’s one of the 10 best vocalists of our time. He was very cool and generous about it – ‘It’s the past, fuck it. Let’s go on.’ The Chris I met on that tour was a gentleman that completely had his shit together.”
One of the major criticisms of the record is that Cornell didn’t bring enough of himself into the project and let Timbaland take the full creative control over the record rather than the two equally collaborating. Cornell insisted that this criticism was unfair and he didn’t do what “Timbaland told me to do,” adding that they “didn’t really have that relationship” and “it wasn’t that type of a process. It was more, he would bring in a beat, an idea, I would write to it and sing it, and we would move on kind of to the next thing.”
Cornell wasn’t naïve and was fully aware that the masses would mostly feel discontent upon hearing the album. It was a deliberate move. The musician wanted to step out of his comfort zone by trying something new regardless of what people would think of it. Despite the record emphatically missing the mark, there were a lot of Cornell’s contemporaries who wouldn’t have dared make such a bold left-field move, especially one that was such a distance away from the guitar-driven rock world where he cut his teeth and most of his cheques.
The album remains one that Timbaland is immensely proud of, despite the adverse reaction towards it. The producer extraordinaire said in 2019: “I loved working on Scream with Chris. He is on the list as one of my favourite collaborators. When Chris walked into the studio, and I heard his lyrics, I knew we were going to make something special. I loved his voice. It was an honour to create Scream and blend his sound with my sound.”
If the late Cornell didn’t take risks throughout his career as he did with Scream, then his career wouldn’t be looked back on with such cherished memories. Cornell was never one to make music for anybody apart from himself, and this meant never getting tied down to one specific sound. Whilst, Scream was a rare misstep in his career, more importantly, it proves that he was an unpredictable artist who always stayed true to himself.