Why Audioslave Are Alternative Rock’s Greatest Supergroup

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Edited by Brett Buchanan

In the early to mid-2000’s, there seemed to be a new supergroup popping up on every corner. Velvet Revolver, Army of Anyone and The Murderdolls, just to name a few. But one supergroup from this era stood far and above the rest: Audioslave. Formed out of the demise of Rage Against the Machine and Soundgarden, Audioslave exploded onto the scene with their eponymous debut album in 2002.

Audioslave consisted of Rage Against The Machine members Tom Morello, Tim Commerford, and Brad Wilk, along with Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell. Their sound was less an amalgamation of their prior bands, but more of a new, fresh sound altogether. Having released three studio albums throughout their brief time together, the band was a breath of fresh air and a welcome return of some of alternative rock’s greatest names. With their reunion performance taking place this past weekend at the Teragram Ballroom in Los Angeles, their first in over a decade, let’s take a look at why Audioslave are alternative rock’s greatest supergroup.

Show Me How To Live…Without Our Bands

In 1997, Soundgarden ended their thirteen year run as one of the absolute best bands in rock and roll. Chris Cornell, lead singer and primary songwriter, went the route many do following their band’s demise: he released a solo album. 1999’s Euphoria Morning proved Cornell still had a lot to say, and was more than capable of producing high quality music. However, despite critical acclaim, the album didn’t deliver commercially to the same level of his former band.

The members of Rage Against The Machine were also facing an uncertain future. After releasing their fourth studio album, Renegades, the band soon found themselves without a singer. Following the recording of the album of covers in 2000, the band split from frontman Zack de la Rocha. Much like Cornell, the members of Rage found themselves trying to figure out where they were headed and what was next.

The three musicians in Rage Against The Machine collectively set out to find a new frontman and continue on their musical journey; albeit outside of the Rage Against The Machine confines. While the easy, if not conventional, route would have been to get a de la Rocha clone, they went to the opposite end of the spectrum. Enter Chris Cornell.

To Be Yourself Is All That You Can Do

Where many supergroups fail is that they sound like hybrids of their members former bands, almost as if the sounds of those bands are competing. Audioslave escaped that fate with relative ease. If they had tried to write “Know Your Enemy” and had Cornell sing over it in the vein of “Pretty Noose,” it wouldn’t work. Audioslave realized this, and forged into new territory. You can hear the influences of their former bands; and honestly, how could they not be present, but Audioslave doesn’t sound like Rage Against the Machine or Soundgarden.

Rage Against the Machine had a pretty straightforward blueprint. Innovative guitar playing, funky fuzzed out, effects-laden bass, and steady, catchy drumming, underneath socially conscious rapping. Chris Cornell did not try to emulate or copy Zach de la Rocha in any way. And why would he? How could he? Both are amazing vocalists in their own right, but they could not be further apart in their delivery and vocal ranges. Chris Cornell simply did Chris Cornell. He was himself. And by being himself, he elevated the former members of Rage to a new level musically.

On “Cochise,” the opening track from their debut album, Audioslave comes the closest to sounding like Rage Against The Machine that they ever would. The single note guitar riffing is an iconic part of Tom Morello’s varied and influential style, and on this track he does it to perfection. But rather than rest on their laurels, the band moved into new sonic territory. Tracks such as “Show Me How To Live” and “Like a Stone” show a musical sophistication and maturity. This isn’t Evil Empire. But it also isn’t Superunknown.

Out of Exile

Audioslave released three albums. Their debut was a huge smash, going three times platinum. The follow up, 2005’s Out of Exile, debuted at number one on the Billboard Top 200 and was certified platinum. Their third and final release, 2006’s Revelations, debuted at number two on the Billboard Top 200 and was certified gold, capping off a solid run commercially that outmatched other supergroups. For example, Velvet Revolver only released two albums. While critically acclaimed, only their first was their only huge commercial success. Audioslave didn’t have the press, nor the exposure, of that band and yet managed to strive critically as well as commercially.

Audioslave also had amazing concerts throughout their history. The band performed live for the first time on November 25, 2002, but it was no ordinary concert. They appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman where they performed on the roof of the Ed Sullivan Theater.

In 2003, they partook in that year’s edition of Lollapalooza. Each member of the band had previously played the festival with their former bands earlier in the careers. Along with Queens of the Stone Age, Incubus and Jane’s Addiction, Audioslave helped provide one of Lollapalooza’s best late-era lineups.

The greatest accomplishment for Audioslave however was that they became the first American rock band to play in Cuba. Carrying on the socially-aware perspective from Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave were the perfect band to have this distinction.

Revelations

Like all good things in life, Audioslave came to an end in 2007. A mere six years after forming. Audioslave were able to produce music that stands comfortably and deservedly alongside the great works of their former bands. That is not an easy task.

With Grammy nominations, platinum albums, and concerts in uncharted territory, Audioslave did in six years what some bands cannot do in thirty. Their contribution to the world of alternative and rock music, as well as their influence, cannot be understated.  Perhaps their greatest song, “Like a Stone,” is a staple of modern rock radio. Their influence and legacy stretches far beyond the scope of their history. With their reunion show, we can only hope that alternative rock’s greatest supergroup has more in store.

  • IrregularJohn

    Great write-up, Joe! The only tidbit I can’t agree with is saying that Like A Stone is the greatest Audioslave song which is like saying Black Hole Sun is Soundgarden’s best song.

  • Ryan Tidd

    I’ve been hoping/waiting for the instrumental of Cochise to be released. You’re right it is the closest thing to the RATM sound. As much as I like and respect the members of Audioslave, their music was truly terrible. Shadows of former bands would probably be a better term than supergroup since that is what they all sound like.

  • killingjoke13

    Supposedly, Layne Staley was going to be in Audioslave before Chris Cornell. “He said he had gotten a call from the old Rage Against The Machine members and they were putting together a new project, and they wanted him to audition. He said he was going back to treatment and then going to LA to do the audition in a couple of months.” It’s fun to imagine what that would’ve been like!

  • caballo1966

    best group ever..hands down..

  • Corndog

    I really liked RATM and i really like Cornell’s voice, but i just didn’t like Audioslave. Honestly though, i can’t explain why that is.