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Exile in Rockville

 

Audioslave: Out of Exile

Interscope, 2005

Rating: 3.5

 

Posted: June 19, 2005

By Kevin Forest Moreau

Although the results were often uneven, Audioslave's self-titled debut found the somewhat improbable combo of Chris Cornell and Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello, Brad Wilk and Tim Commerford playing to their respective strengths while feeding off of one another to create an engaging hybrid with some moments of true hard-rock abandon. Out of Exile, on the other hand, finds the band backing away from at least one of those familiar strengths -- the firebomb intensity of Morello and company's stampeding riffage. The musical range that results is commendable -- it's nice to see that the former Rage members have more than one setting, since that band was always hard to take in large doses -- but it's difficult not to mourn the lack of swaggering brawn.

Certainly, there are some serviceable hard rock moments of Out of Exile: The confident opener "Your Time Has Come," on which Cornell forever threatens to break into the verses of Buffalo Springfield's "Mr. Soul"; "The Worm," which reprocesses the stumbling fuzz and sustained pauses of Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog"; and the straightforward "Man or Animal," with Cornell's David Coverdale wail vying for supremacy with Morello's guitar, which squeals and squeaks much as it did on Rage's "Guerilla Radio."

Trouble is, each of those moments feel naggingly familiar, sort of like the 1970s rock echoes Cornell's former band Soundgarden used to thrash about to before it settled into its own identity. And they're overshadowed by slower numbers, like the hummable anthem "Be Yourself" or the power ballad "Heaven's Dead." Which, nice as they are, are notable more for Cornell's hard-to-miss voice than for any sonic signature. As catchy as "Be Yourself" is, it could just as easily be a lost Gregg Allman solo track.

There are surprises here, no doubt, and pleasant ones to boot, like the loose-limbed "Drown Me Slowly," which turns on a Rage-esque groove and more of Morello's guitar-bred sound effects, or the accessible alt-rock nugget "Dandelion," on which Cornell's assured "ooh-oohs" make up for vaguely supportive lyrics ("All your tomorrows shine"). And despite its lack of arena-rock crunch, "Doesn't Remind Me" emerges as the album's clearest triumph, a strummed, lightweight breeze of a tune that explodes into a restrained but no less vibrant chorus. It's such an agreeable singalong that it feels churlish to point out that it feels like a Cornell solo number; there's little in its well-executed arrangement to suggest the involvement of so distinctive a set of players as Morello, et al.

Of course, it's a fool's errand to begrudge a band for following its own musical path, or for circumventing expectations in the process. Don't we want our rock bands to lead us in different directions? Well, sure, but there's different exciting, different unique and different in the sense of "Oh, is that who that is? Hmm." Out of Exile is certainly a more mature record than its predecessor, which is great if maturity is all you're looking for from (it bears repeating) Chris Cornell and the guys from Rage Against the Machine.

But as solid a listen as it may be, one can't help but yearn for a little bit more of the testosterone-charged hard-rock muscle that the band members' resumes evoke. Audioslave announced the arrival of a promising hard-rock supergroup; Out of Exile serves as a reminder that supergroups (Asia, anyone?) often add up to less than the sum of their parts.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A classic
 4.0-4.9: Stellar work
 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
 2.0-2.9: Nothing special
 1.1-1.9: Pretty bad
 0.0-1.0: Total disaster

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