First off, there those who rather sneeringly refer to Audioslave as a "super group" are off the mark; whatever this album may (or may not) be it is nothing if not sincere. If they were in it solely for the money, Audioslave certainly could have made a more commercial album, instead they stretched their legs artistically, and while they don't always succeed, they certainly make a game of it.
By way of some background, Audioslave is made up of Chris Cornell, of Soundgarden fame, on vocals with Tom Morello (lead guitar), Tim Commerford (bass), and Brad Wilk (drums) all formerly of Rage Against the Machine rounding out the group. The funny thing is, I was never a particularly big fan of either band, but the match-up intrigued me. As Henry Rollins once said, Cornell's voice can, "peel paint off the walls", and I always liked Rage's fusion of funk and rock, personified in Morello's remarkable guitar playing. The problem was, Zach de la Rocha's self-consciously political lyrics ruined the music for me (what rhymes with `Zapatista'?). With de la Rocha's ouster, I saw a lot of potential, and while the end result is a mixed bag, it's more than worth the price.
The first three tracks on this album ("Cochise", "Show Me How To Live", and "Gasoline") are flat out rockers. There is no one thing about them that makes them stand out; it's just an all out group effort with excellence at every level. "Cochise" in particular is a brilliant combination of the stripped down grunge we would have heard Cornell recording a decade ago, and the flourishes that are Morello's hallmark.
The fourth track, "What You Are" foreshadows some of the difficulties found later in the album. Morello, gets stuck in a pretty dull chord progression for most of the song, and when he finally breaks out with a truly remarkable riff (sort of a melodic, electronic version of a catfight, if that makes any sense) it seems oddly disconnected from the rest of the song.
"Like A Stone" is the first single off the album, and rightfully so as it represents the best fusion of Soundgarden and Rage on the album. Cornell's voice is in fine form soaring to ear-piercing shrieks only to dip down to a steady rumble and then back again. In addition, Morello's guitar work is nothing short of breathtaking; I don't even know how to begin to describe it other than that it is the perfect counterpoint to Cornell's voice and some of the most original and creative stuff I have heard in a long time.
"Set It Off" seems to be Cornell's nod to Rage's political base, and while it's not a bad song (in fact it's a pretty good tune) it seems oddly out of context on the album. Moreover, Cornell, a multimillionaire pushing forty singing "...set it off now children..." is more than a little amusing.
If "Like A Stone" is a perfect fusion of what was, then track seven, "Shadow of the Sun" is the best example of what may be to come. This track goes beyond fusing elements successfully, and creates something new. Morello's guitar swoops and soars, never settling in one place for long. In the hands of a less talented musician it would be pretentious and tedious, but with Morello it's just sheer brilliance. At the same time, Cornell's singing reveals a more contemplative side, a certain maturity, which only adds to the power of his voice.
It's followed up by another excellent cut in "I Am The Highway" which contains some of my favorite lyrics. Cornell explores relativity as he stays the same as friends and lovers come and go.
Track nine, "Exploder" is a pretty good tune, but there's nothing about it that one takes notice of.
The next track, "Hypnotize" is a funny little song that I rather like; but I'm not sure that it's the right direction for Cornell. Specifically, he has a delivery that borders on the spoken word, and while there's nothing wrong with that per se, I'm not sure he has the right kind of voice for it. An Ed Vedder, for example, would be better suited to the kind of delivery he's going for. Nonetheless, I really like this one, and it features perhaps the best drum work on the album.
Tracks 11 and 12 are far and away my least favorite on the album. Both "Bring Em Back Alive" and in particular, "Light My Way" offer performances that are more reminiscent of a cookie cutter heavy metal track than anything one would expect from artists of this caliber. The one exception here is the superb guitar solo (one of the few extended solos on the album) that is completely wasted on "Bring Em Back Alive"; Morello really gets experimental on that one, and the drums are excellent, but the song just doesn't live up to the effort.
Next is "Getaway Car", which has an interesting, bluesy sort of beat, and vocal arrangements that vaguely remind me of Gospel/Soul (believe it or not).
Finally, the album wraps up with the rather forgettable "The Last Remaining Light". Frankly, the whole band seems a little bored with this one, and while it's not awful, I can't imagine ever skipping ahead to get to it.
In the end that's eight good-to-great songs, three good ones, and three I could have lived without. Generally speaking, I would be ecstatic to get eleven solid tracks off an album, and in this instance that's certainly true. While Audioslave's first effort doesn't quite live up to all the expectations and hype (could any album have?) it is still well above average, and is a great listen. If you want to hear why there may yet be hope for rock in this age of borderline psychotic rock-rap a la Limp Bizkit and the derivative drudgery of Creed or Nickelback, the self-titled "Audioslave" is more than worth checking out.