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Album Review

Grunge meets dance pop

March 9, 2009
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ROCK
Chris Cornell Scream
Interscope Records
ESSENTIAL "Take Me Alive"

In theory, this seems like an intriguing experiment: Chris Cornell (above), the golden throat of grunge, teaming up with Timbaland, the maestro producer of au courant dance pop.

In execution, it is an intriguing muddle.

The credit - or blame, depending on the song - lies mostly with Timbaland, who simply plops the former Soundgarden frontman's voice into the sea of burping synths, celestial choirs, and fuzz that are the producer's undeniably funky signature. He rarely stretches more than a little toward Cornell's rock aesthetic, so it feels much more like "Timbaland featuring Chris Cornell" than the reverse. (The exception is a satisfyingly straight-up and lowdown blues rocker lurking as a hidden track.)

This forces the singer-songwriter to find a way to plug his poetic musings into a nightclub wall of sound, a framework that worked better for previous Timbo collaborators such as Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake. (The latter shows up to add backing vocals to the album's most compelling track, the sinuous Eastern-tinged groove "Take Me Alive"). Unfortunately, Cornell doesn't always come up with poetry, especially in opener "Part of Me," in which he endlessly repeats the unappealing phrase "that [unflattering word for woman] ain't a part of me."

Timbaland's beguilingly left-field vocal arrangements work well, however, particularly on the galloping "Time," as does Cornell's always impressive voice. He nimbly exploits his mesmerizing lower register and soars in the stacked harmonies of "Get Up" and the title track.

The resulting dynamic is two distinct flowers from the sound garden that produce an only occasionally sweet-smelling bouquet. SARAH RODMAN

Chris Cornell plays the House of Blues April 10.

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