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Music Review: Chris Cornell shines on an album of covers

December 11, 2020 GMT
This cover image released by UMe shows "No One Sings Like You Anymore" by Chris Cornell. (UMe via AP)
This cover image released by UMe shows "No One Sings Like You Anymore" by Chris Cornell. (UMe via AP)
This cover image released by UMe shows "No One Sings Like You Anymore" by Chris Cornell. (UMe via AP)

Chris Cornell, “No One Sings Like You Anymore” (UMe)

No disrespect to Sinead O’Connor, but there’s another version of “Nothing Compares 2 U” that might be even better than the one the Irish singer delivered. That would be the cover by Chris Cornell, which is ragged with heartbreak.

It’s the highlight of “No One Sings Like You Anymore,” a batch of 10 covers that the leader of Soundgarden and Audioslave recorded in 2016, a year before his death. Included are tunes originally made famous by giants like Janis Joplin and John Lennon.

Throughout his career, Cornell covered other artists and was covered himself, once by no less than Johnny Cash, who recorded Soundgarden’s “Rusty Cage.” Cornell seemed to relish tackling other artists’ music, including “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson and “Thank You” by Led Zeppelin. His live sets included songs by Black Sabbath, the Beatles and Dolly Parton. None of those made this latest collection, which focuses on more polished gems, overseen by producer Brendan O’Brien.

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Cynics might say this new album is just a money grab from those who watched Cornell’s cover of Guns N’ Roses’ “Patience” go to No. 1 on Billboard’s mainstream rock songs chart earlier this year. But there’s nothing here that Cornell touches which isn’t fascinating, excellent or lighters-in-the-air cool. Many are simply better than the originals.

What he does with Ghostland Observatory’s “Sad Sad City” is remarkable, taking a synth-heavy, New Wave-ish tune into a momentous foot-stomping rock classic. He does the same with Electric Light Orchestra’s “Showdown,” stripping the original of its bed of strings and adding a driving funkiness.

His version of Joplin’s “Get It While You Can” is simply unrecognizable. Cornell knows he can’t out-wail the electric Joplin, with all her vulnerability and fear, so he goes in a different direction, transforming what was a bluesy ballad into an arena rocker. Cornell turns soulful when he tackles Lorraine Ellison’s “Stay With Me Baby,” letting his voice soar by replacing the delicateness of the original with a powerful neediness.

He keeps the vocal distortions in his version of Harry Nilsson’s “Jump Into the Fire,” but tightens the meandering arrangement and ups the bass. His cover of John Lennon’s “Watching the Wheels” is very respectful — maybe even too much — but the song interlinking the two men is heartbreaking: Both dads, taken too soon, enjoying the little things in life.

The album is bittersweet — another chance to hear a voice that’s deeply missed. Nothing compared to him.

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Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits