Euphoria Morning has a strange status in Chris Cornell’s extensive discography. Released in 1999, just two years after Soundgarden’s disbandment and with Audioslave’s conception still on the horizon, it underperformed commercially and seemed to go under the radar in comparison to his usual juggernauts. It wouldn’t be Cornell’s only solo album, but the timing makes it feel like a transitional one-off or an aborted attempt at a new beginning. Fortunately, time has been incredibly kind to Euphoria Morning and it remains one of the most unique albums in Cornell’s discography and the late 90s rock landscape.
While Euphoria Morning’s moodiness isn’t too far off from Soundgarden’s mellowed out Down on the Upside and could even reach as far back as Temple of the Dog, its specific makeup is rather tricky to pinpoint. It could be best described as a singer/songwriter album through an alternative lens; linear structures are driven by deeply personal yet somehow still esoteric lyrics and colored by psychedelic instrumentation. A wide variety of influences are implemented as one can hear traces of folk, blues, gospel, Zeppelin on downers-style hard rock with “Follow My Way” and “Moonchild,” and even funk on “Wave Goodbye.” A clean production job keeps things from getting too fuzzy, but it retains a swirling, almost murky makeup.
Cornell’s vocals are on full display as expected though presented with far more nuance than anything he’d done before. His performance encompasses the broad range that helped make Soundgarden so legendary, but his lines and phrasings are less acrobatic in comparison. His octave shifts serve to highlight emotional climaxes rather than showboat and his voice has an incredibly warm, full timbre overall. Comparisons could be made to how Jeff Buckley carried himself on 1994’s Grace, but Cornell’s performance comes with a more distinctly down to earth maturity.
The other musicians inevitably play more supporting roles with this being a solo record and all, but they undeniably shape the proceedings. The Eleven pair of Alain Johannes and Natasha Shneider were wise choices for collaborators, providing much of the album’s psychedelic colors through the former’s psych-friendly rhythms and wah effects and the latter’s keyboard and organ layers. It’s easy for the rhythm section to get lost in the shuffle but they ultimately set up a sturdy foundation without getting too basic or flashy.
What ultimately sets Euphoria Morning apart from similarly melancholic efforts is the multi-faceted expression of its sadness. The album is primarily fueled by Cornell’s alcoholism and despair over the Soundgarden fallout, but it cycles through many different moods in that frame of mind. “Can’t Change Me” and “Flutter Girl” open with a somberness that almost tries to save face before giving way to the vulnerable “Preaching the End of the World.” From there, the wailing heartbreak on “When I’m Down” and “Disappearing One” intermingles with the restraint of “Sweet Euphoria” and “Pillow of Your Bones.” By the time the closing “Steel Rain” comes around, its chorus’s distraught howls feel like resigned screams into the void.
Chris Cornell may have returned to introspective territory in his post-Audioslave solo career, but nothing else could ever have captured the spirit of Euphoria Morning. Its overwhelming air of uncertainty and somber blending of various genres is nigh impossible to replicate. It’s the sort of album that could’ve only been made in its own transitional time, yet its unique style gives it a timeless quality that has only intensified in the wake of Cornell’s tragic passing. It may not be as iconic as Badmotorfinger or Superunknown, but it deserves to be regarded just as highly for the role it plays in Chris Cornell’s undying legacy.
“Can’t Change Me”
“Preaching the End of the World”
“Follow My Way”
“When I’m Down”
R.I.P. Christopher John Cornell (July 20th, 1964 – May 18th, 2017)