Timbaland and Chris Cornell have nothing in common but a desire to make great music.
CHRIS CORNELL with MOBILE at Kool Haus (132 Queens Quay East), Friday (November 21), 8 pm. $46.50. 416-870-8000.
Since pulling the plug on Soundgarden, chest-baring singer Chris Cornell has made a number of moves that might seem ill-advised.
Drug and alcohol issues aside, there's the time he took Rick Rubin's suggestion to join the former members of Rage Against the Machine in a group whose horrible handle, Audioslave, came to Cornell in a vision. It turned out that a Liverpool band had the same dream first and demanded payment for non-exclusive rights to the naff name.
Then there was his bizarre decision to cover Michael Jackson's Billie Jean on his 2007 album, Carry On, which almost seems normal compared to the head-scratching announcement that he was collaborating with Timbaland on a new album, Scream (due in February).
Sure, Cornell's stylish crooning of the James Bond theme You Know My Name for 2006's Casino Royale showed he's matured considerably since his grunge-bellowing days, but what the fuck? A hook-up with über-urbanizer Timbaland represents a radical rethink.
"I'm sure that people who've heard about us working together are imagining the rock world colliding with the hip-hop world like Aerosmith and Run DMC," says Cornell. "But it's not like we're dropping some fuzz guitar over some hip-hop beats and then I come in to sing the hook. That's not what my new album is about.
"This is two people from completely different backgrounds with dissimilar musical origins and influences coming together to create something new without drawing any lines or discussing limitations. Because our inspiration is coming from all over the place, I find it very difficult to compare it to anything else or even describe what it is we've done."
On the five finished songs I've been allowed to hear, the moody programmed soundscapes Timbaland has created and the live instrumentation are closer to Cornell's work with David Holmes on You Know My Name than to anything either Cornell or Timbaland has previously released. It sounds like Cornell was aiming for a 70s prog rock concept, and the addition of between-track segues to make the finished version one grandiose epic should help his cause.
"The more songs I finished, the more I became aware of certain songs sharing a tempo and tone. But we didn't write anything that would steer into this idea of making it one hour of continuous music; that didn't happen until we had 20 songs completed and then pared it down to 13. Once the song sequence was established, we started creating the interludes to tie everything together, and those little instrumental segues actually took us longer than writing and recording the songs."
Considering how much of today's audience consumes music by the track and that the ring tone is the new single format, releasing an album that demands 60 minutes of undivided attention might be optimistic at best and commercial suicide at worst.
Yet whatever the market trends indicate, Cornell has high hopes for Scream.
"I've just finished doing eight shows with Timbaland on the West Coast playing nothing but the new album from beginning to end - no breaks in between songs - and it worked extremely well live. It's so exciting to play an hour of continuous music."
Certainly, the dance routines could be amazing.
"Um, there's no choreography involved," clarifies Cornell. "Just singing."
Don't be surprised if you hear some new Chris Cornell joints in dance clubs. Evidently remixes of the songs from the forthcoming Scream album have not been ruled out.
With the new James Bond film Quantum of Solace in theatres, Cornell recalls his own experience writing and recording the theme to the remake of Casino Royale.