Audioslave: Audioslave

by Pinback

I visit my grandparents once every two weeks or so. This has declined from the nearly weekly visits I used to put in when I was living back in the Valley. I do this not to be a "good grandson", to ensure a healthy portion of the inheritance. Well, not just for that. Truth is, I enjoy their company. They are both very funny, quirky, enjoyable people to be around. And they provide a remarkable glimpse into the minds of people who grew up and lived their lives two generations away from anything you've experienced. It's not just a one-way discussion either, a real-life caricature of the old man telling the young one, "Back in my day..." No, there's dialogue here. "Here's how it was in my day. How is it in your day?" It's nice. It's educational. It's enlightening. And at the end of every discussion, an obvious thread has been sewn across the generation gap. Something both sides can grab onto and say, yes, I recognize that, I feel that, I understand that. Universal truths. Galactic sure-things. Perennial positives.

This theme stretches to nearly every subject. Nearly every subject except music.

These people have never heard a rock song. Not all the way through, anyway. I've heard them explain what rock music sounds like to them, and why they have no need for it. My grandfather will bang his fist on the table repeatedly (in remarkably precise 4/4 time, I should add -- he was a musician himself) and tell me, "This. This is what it all sounds like to me." And they've no sense of time as far as rock music is concerned, either. Play them a Beatles song, and they'll scoff, spit through their dentures and exclaim disgustedly: "See? See the crap the young people are listening to today?" It is hopeless.

They simply do not understand.

It's difficult to explain rock music to someone who doesn't understand it. In many ways, they have a point, banging their fists in time on the heirloom dinner table. That's primarily it, when you get right down to it. You're either with it, or you're not.

I shocked more than a few friends of mine a few years ago when I came forth and proclaimed that Rage Against the Machine was the greatest band to come along in the last twenty years. This white kid from the Maryland boonies who spent his whole life studying movie soundtracks and going to private schools and learning how to shovel stalls in a horse barn, came out and said that this... this RAP/METAL group was the best one around. Well, sure.

Thing was, the "rap" part of that duo was more of a novelty than anything else. I hadn't listened to much rap since the Beastie's first album, which I remember laughing to with my private school buddies as we bussed home from the latest lacrosse match, or whatever it is that rich white kids did in 1986.

But that band. I had never heard a band that had so willfully decided to take ROCK AND ROLL, set it up in a big pot on the high burner, reduce it until it was thick and dark, and then pump it down your throat until your insides had seared away. They took rock and got it as close to the fist banging on the table as possible, then turned the fist into a 1000 pound anvil and shattered that fucking table into dust. The music of that band is rock and roll at its most purest, rarely straying away from the pentatonic scale, because it didn't need to. It just turned up the volume and kicked your ass. If you don't get rock, you don't get this. If you do, you need look no further.

But then, they broke up.

And Soundgarden, which had itself started to recapture the ghosts of Zeppelin and shape them as their own, they'd already broken up.

That sucked.

Then you know the story after that. Cornell, the finest voice in rock, teamed up with the non-rapping portion of RATM, and jammed for awhile. And in 19 days, they'd written 21 songs, echoing stories that had been told over 30 years previously when a Yardbirds guitarist named Page hooked up with a few guys named Plant, Jones and Bonham. And shortly thereafter, they recorded an album.

And then the businessmen got into it, and they fucked it all up. The greatest group that never was.

I don't know the specifics behind it, but apparently somebody wised up, or the art just demanded to exist on this earthly plane, and the business stuff was resolved. And all the management companies and agents and PR reps and record labels crawled back under their respective rocks, and let the band get back to it and finish their album. Their FIRST album.

The band? Audioslave. The record? Audioslave.

Right. I was supposed to review it at some point, wasn't I. Okay, I'll start now.

I am assuming that if you're even considering purchasing or otherwise listening to this album, you're a fan of either Rage or Soundgarden, and probably closer to both. Or at least you've got familiarity there. So, here's what I recommend to you: Listen to it twice.

The first time, the backstory and "significance" is too distracting. It's virtually impossible to listen through the first time without picking the petals from the rose, dissecting the sound -- Yup, there's Tommy on the geetar. There's Chris! Whoa, he sounds just like back in Soundgarden! Remember that band?? -- and I think it does a disservice to the music. But, it's gotta happen. So, listen through once, get it out of your system. Then go back later, after a touch of Safeway "Safeway" Safeway Safeway "Safeway" Vodka, blast that fucker up to 11, let it all blend together, and soak it up for all it's worth.

Then spread the word to all the Nu-Metal geeks and Emo whiners and white boy Rap-Metal thug wannabes and dinosaurs still buying new Stones records and White Stripes nouveau-hipsters:

This, motherfuckers, is what ROCK sounds like.

Come up with five notes, wring 'em through 40 years of blood, sex, and fire, and this is the album you get on the other side.

There is lightness here, primarily Cornell's influence, I'm guessing. Here the Rage boys get a chance to continue, ever cautiously, exploring out from their straight-ahead comfort zone as they'd started to do on Renegades, the last (and arguably greatest) Rage album. But right about the time you're getting ready to put a flower in your hair and move to San Francisco, good ol' Los Angeles rears its ugly, heavy head and knocks your ass back in your beer-stained La-Z-Boy. Morello's sound is unmistakable, and he continues to do what he does best, and does better than anybody in rock for as long as you'd care to remember: 1. Play killer riffs as loud and funky as you could possibly care to imagine, and 2. Do weird shit with his guitar and make it sound like a vacuum cleaner shoved into a laundry dryer and then shot into space and interpreted by aliens into their native tongue. Never less than fascinating, and rarely less than shattering.

Cornell's voice is as raspy and full as ever. It's easy to forget what a real rock singer actually sounds like, with the parade of growling Eddie Vedder clones and nasal teenage whiners parading across the airwaves.

The rhythm section stays in the pocket and breaks out the noise just on time.

The one key track, I think, the one that strays furthest from both the Rage and Soundgarden roots is "Hypnotize". A constant, dare I say, hypnotic buffet of rhythmic experimentation, it is new, it is unexpected, and not surprisingly, it grooves like a mother. If, Lord-willing, this is not the last we've heard from Audioslave, I could see this being the track that links the old with the new and pushes the envelope even further. Although in a rock-starved musical landscape, this is about the one band I would forgive for staying right where they are and kicking out the jams for as long as their hearing held up.

Look in the liner notes, and there it is again, Rage's musical maxim: "All sounds by guitar, bass, drums and vocals."

That's what rock is, baby. In your face, blow your mind, nuke the world aural power. If you don't get it, you don't get it.

If you don't, just pound your fist on the table a few times. You'll get the idea.


About the author: Ben "Pinback" Parrish is an olympic-level biathelete and owner of a feces-hurling pus monkey. He enjoys pie and cows. Additionally, he is the site operator for Monto Rusa.