Nowadays, not many musicians are willing to take chances, for better or for worse. Popular music is at a very stagnant point, and it's rare to see a performer radically alter their course in pursuit of artistic fulfillment. There are exceptions though, like former Soundgarden and Audioslave vocalist Chris Cornell. From the 1980s onwards, he's made myriad stylistic changes with some being good, some being bad, and all being what he felt were the best direction to go.
In 1984, Chris and a motley crew of Seattle musicians including guitarist Kim Thayil formed Soundgarden. In the years leading up to their first EPs on SubPop records, there were the usual line-up changes, but the style of Soundgarden, the piledriving guitar riffs and powerful vocals, was already showing itself. This style would hit it's peak on 1991's Grammy-nominated Badmotorfinger album, featuring the classic cut "Jesus Christ Pose" and the high speed escape cry of "Rusty Cage." This was followed up with the increasingly experimental albums Superunknown in 1994 and 1996's self-produced effort, Down on the Upside. The band eventually broke up after Down on the Upside due to creative conflicts between Cornell and his long-time guitarist, Kim Thayil. Cornell wanted to change things up and experiment even more, while Thayil wanted to keep things heavy.
Starting in 1998, Chris Cornell began work on his first solo album, Euphoria Morning, in earnest. He teamed up with members of the band Eleven and released a critically-acclaimed album in the vein of the late Jeff Buckley, who was a friend of Cornell's. With this initial solo attempt, he ended up releasing a Grammy-nominated album and contributing songs to the 1998 film Great Expectations, and 2000's Mission Impossible II ("Sunshowers," and "Mission 2000," respectively). After a tour behind the Euphoria Morning album in 2000, the next phase of Chris' career began when contact was made by ex-members of Rage Against the Machine with regards to forming a new band.
In 2002, Audioslave's self-titled first album was released to much acclaim, and slingshotted Cornell back to the forefront of pop consciousness. With Tom Morello, Brad Wilk, and Tim Commerford (ex-Rage Against the Machine), providing the groovy, crunchy rock, all Chris had to do was bring his trademark fiery singing to the game, and he did it. However, touring for the first album was delayed due to our subject encountering personal issues and entering rehab. After exiting rehab and successfully completing another world tour, Audioslave went on to release two more albums (2005's Out of Exile and 2006's Revelations), with increasing funk and R&B influences before disbanding in July of 2006. Morello, Wilk, and Commerford reformed Rage Against the Machine with their original vocalist Zach de la Rocha, and Chris Cornell continued to forge his own path.
Upon his resurfacing, Chris Cornell hit upon another first: He became the first American male singer to perform the theme for a James Bond movie (2006's Casino Royale). Unfortunately, the song that was contributed, "You Know My Name," did not appear on the official soundtrack album for the movie. Fans had to wait until the release of Cornell's second solo album, Carry On. While the style was best described as alternative rock, there were still heavy doses of psychedalia and blues. Most curiously, was a Leonard Cohen-esque cover of the Michael Jackson hit "Billy Jean," which was well recieved by both fans and critics alike. This however, merely set the stage for the most interesting choice of Chris Cornell's career: Scream, a 2009 album produced by urban pop notable Timbaland. Scream is best described as a polarizing effort, as it completey abandons the things he was known for (I.E. music with guitars), and was really a modern R&B record as opposed to a rock record.
With the reunion of Soundgarden in full swing this year, it's fair to say that Chris Cornell has earned the luxury of looking back and revisiting his past. He's done things his way throughout his entire career, and now can stand atop the heights of his success and tell his kids he did it his way. We don't know what the future will bring from him musically, but we can be sure it will be straight from the heart.