If "Out of Exile" proves anything, it certainly confirms the commitment of the four members of AUDIOSLAVE to being a real band and not just the "supergroup" that they were hyped as when the combination of SOUNDGARDEN singer Chris Cornell with the three non-singing members of RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE was first announced back in 2002. Some naysayers didn't think the group would make it to a second album, but sure enough, they have. What "Out of Exile" still doesn't establish convincingly is that this is the truly great band it appears to be on paper.
Despite the potential of one of heavy rock's great vocalists of the last 15 years backed by one of its most fearsome and powerful instrumental trios, AUDIOSLAVE is once again ironically at its best with its slower, more melancholy material. The two standout cuts on this disc, "Be Yourself" and the gently bittersweet "Heaven's Dead", come from a more reflective place that's reminiscent of something like SOUNDGARDEN's "Fell On Black Days" or any of the material from Cornell's 1999 solo album, "Euphoria Morning". Not to give all the credit to the singer; guitarist Tom Morello delivers a funky, dramatic solo on "Be Yourself", while drummer Brad Wilk and bassist Tim Commerford display their ability to be rock solid while subtle at the same time. The songs themselves soar on a mix of sadness and optimism that's honestly moving. Other tunes, like the world-weary yet ingratiating "Doesn't Remind Me" and the heartfelt "Dandelion" (possibly inspired by Cornell's daughters) have a hopeful edge that adds a new texture to the band's sound.
It's on the harder-edged stuff that AUDIOSLAVE still seems to be finding its identity. Tracks like "Out of Exile" and "Man or Animal" are played with zest, but they lack either the standout riffs and urgency of vintage RAGE or the sheer massive weight of classic SOUNDGARDEN. We're not trying to make comparisons here, but simply point out that AUDIOSLAVE's heavier material lacks a certain uniqueness that would truly set the band's material apart.
Still, the sheer talent of these four individuals nevertheless shines through. Opener "Your Time Has Come" rocks with authority and swagger, while even somewhat generic heavier numbers like "Drown Me Slowly" and "The Worm" feature more instrumental muscle than most of the acts passing as "modern rock" these days. Cornell is still one of the best rock singers of his era, and his voice transmits a range of emotions that adds more feeling to this material than many bands would be able to muster.
But could the members of AUDIOSLAVE be fighting a natural inclination to write softer material, thinking to themselves that a band like this must come up with the same kind of music that its members were writing five, six, even ten years ago? The best songs on their 2002 debut — "Like A Stone", "I Am The Highway" — were also more subdued and utterly poignant. Having said that, that first disc has grown on me tremendously in the last three years, long after the initial massive expectations faded. Perhaps the members of AUDIOSLAVE still need a little more time to completely exile the ghosts of their collective histories and move into truly new territory.