The hard-rock band Audioslave arose from the ashes of two chart-topping groups that broke up at the peak of their success — Soundgarden and Rage Against the Machine.
So now that Audioslave has just issued its third album in four years amid reviews that suggest the group is finally delivering on its promise, it must be time to call it a day?
"Yeah, exactly," singer Chris Cornell says with a laugh. "Everything's going great, and now that we know for sure we can make several more great records, somebody's gotta leave.
"It could be any one of us," he adds. "And also at this age ... unexpected death can happen, too."
Of course he's being facetious, though it would be a pity if the 42-year-old Seattle native were to walk in front of a bus now that he's newly sober and enjoying domestic bliss in Paris with a new wife and their baby son.
The former Soundgarden vocalist says Audioslave has been dogged by break-up rumors ever since he joined forces in 2001 with Rage guitarist Tom Morello, bass player Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk. The "super group" combination, after all, seemed so irresistible, yet so combustible.
The rumor mill went into overdrive recently when Audioslave said no tour was planned to coincide with the release of its new album, "Revelations" (Epic/Interscope), which opened at No. 2 on the U.S. pop charts Wednesday. Instead, Cornell said he would co-write and perform the theme song for the new James Bond movie "Casino Royale." He begins work on a second solo album in October.
Problem-solvingMeanwhile, Cornell has been promoting "Revelations" by himself on the European TV and radio circuit, performing a timely version of "Wide Awake," a new song that takes the Bush administration to task for its slow response to Hurricane Katrina. He says he misses his bandmates when they are apart for too long, and he looks forward to reconnecting on tour next year.
"I think the biggest problem with people surviving in a band and getting along and appreciating each other is ... that for the most part musicians aren't the kind of people who concentrate or worry about what the other guy thinks," he says.
When problems arise in Audioslave, they are dealt with immediately, he says, because the members have learned plenty from their previous bands.
Rage Against the Machine, fronted by singer Zack de la Rocha, emerged as one of the most political bands of the 1990s, with Harvard-educated Morello espousing Marxist theories and decrying the perils of capitalism and censorship.
Soundgarden, meanwhile, was one of the leading lights of the Seattle rock scene. The heavy guitar riffs of Kim Thayil recalled the thunderous sound of British metal pioneers Black Sabbath. Soundgarden broke up in 1997, Rage in 2000 when de la Rocha quit, citing internal dissent.
Audioslave issued its self-titled debut in 2002, complete with Cornell's trademark shrieks and Morello's penchant for guitar-playing gimmickry. But the effort was judged a little too earnest or muddled. Last year's "Out of Exile" drew better reviews and opened at No. 1 on the U.S. album charts.
Cornell underwent a transformation between albums. He was a raging drunk when he formed Audioslave, to the consternation of his bandmates. But he cleaned up his act, albeit without a recognized program like Alcoholics Anonymous. "I just chose a different lifestyle," he says.
At least, he did not have to complete the ninth step — making amends — which might have involved dealing with his ex-wife, Susan Silver, who also managed Soundgarden. Their 2004 divorce triggered bitter litigation. Just recently, Cornell sued his former divorce lawyer and accountant, claiming they negligently allowed Silver to co-own his musical works rather than share in the royalties.
On a happier front, Cornell married a publicist and now lives in the City of Lights with their son, Chris, Jr. Life must be good, because he's the only one smiling in the "Revelations" CD booklet. "I was probably hammered," he jokes.
But the conversation soon turns serious. The word "anxiety" is mentioned a half-dozen times. With domestic stability, comes "a tremendous amount of anxiety when you have something to lose," and then there's "the anxiety of the state of world politics and U.S. foreign policy hanging over your head."
He expects his solo album will explore some of those themes. He shared some of his worries in "Wide Awake," which finds the country's leadership "guilty of a crime, of sleeping at a time, when you should have been wide awake."
He says he preferred writing a song about Hurricane Katrina than joining the New Orleans celebrity trail blazed by publicity-savvy stars like Sean Penn.
"I'd probably be a liability anyway. Somebody would have to come and rescue me," he says with a laugh.