Carry On is musically strong and well crafted, with only one disappointing track; ‘Poison Eye’, whose chorus is a little silly-sounding and anachronistic to the lyrical content (though songs like this have a tendency to grow on me, so we’ll see how I feel about it in a few months). The only other complaint I have is the inclusion of “You Know My Name” (from Casino Royale), which I personally (for thematic reasons) would have either cut or placed near the beginning of the B side, perhaps after ‘Scar on the Sky’ or ‘Your Soul Today’. As it is, it feels like an encore number; very out of place.
The record opens with a barn-burner; ‘No Such Thing’ which, also being the first single, will probably give many listeners the impression that this album is going to be a straightforward hard-rocking collection a la Cornell’s previous work with Soundgarden and Audioslave. However, Carry On is in fact a much more eclectic mix of styles and sonic textures that support and carry Cornell’s lyrics without overwhelming them. Though the songs on Carry On display a diversity of musical influences, the eclecticism comes through subtly, as born of long experience and down-in-the-bones familiarity with different types of music and the emotions they evoke, tied together in Cornell’s mature, guitar-driven rock. I never once had the impression that Cornell sat in the studio saying “I think next I’d like to write a song that sounds like …”.
The songs of Carry On interweave two themes: Hope in the face of Futility, spun around stories of slowly maturing romantic passion. From the radio-ready resignation of ‘Arms Around Your Love’, the pacey, brooding irony of ‘She’ll Never Be Your Man’, big-Pop melancholy of ‘Ghosts’, and a slow-burn cover of Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’, to the oddly-metaphysical ‘Scar on the Sky’ and the cathartic, comforting resolution of ‘Finally Forever’, Cornell takes us from typical angst-inducing loss and the frustration of self-destructive behavior (though tempered with a maturity that accepts the vanity inherent in the romantic drama) to a resolved and stable joy that is certainly a-typical in modern rock.
From the violent frustration of ‘No Such Thing’ (after reading the lyrics and listening to the song, check out the video), Cornell takes us through manipulation, wistfulness, resignation and then, after the redemption of ‘Finally Forever’, a glancing exposition of the futility that we have seen throughout the album in ‘Disapearing Act’.
Cary On is enjoyable beginning to end, and like all good albums is better taken as a whole than adding up the sum of its parts between rides in the car. However, there are a few stand-out tracks that will be in heavy rotation on my summer play-lists:
1. ‘She’ll Never Be Your Man’ – Supremely sing-along-able chorus and tasty electric slide-guitar accents.
2. ‘Billie Jean’ – Heart-wrenching, in all the best senses of the cliche, and therefor funny (oddly enough).
3. ‘Scar on the Sky (Hover)’ – Some of the best lyrics on the album, and builds to a very satisfyingly expansive crescendo.
4. ‘Killing Birds’ – No idea why, but it’s one of my favorites. So there.
5. ‘Disapearing Act’ – Subtly soulful and a perfect conclusion, both lyrically and musically, to the record.
Though there is nothing particularly virtuosic about Carry On, it is solid and quietly excellent. Chris Cornell is one of the few true adults writing rock music today, and I have a feeling that Cary On will age as well as its creator.
Post Script: The initial glow having faded, I think I allowed my wishes to interpret the record somewhat. I stand by my comments about the romantic theme, but with regard to ‘vanity’, I really don’t think that Cornell actually has any idea what to do about it. ‘Disappearing Act’ sums up the record well but, really, is depressing as hell. And while I’m at it, ‘Silence the Voices’ sits down next to ‘Poison Eye’: an alright idea that just didn’t quite work out. Otherwise, I still enjoy this record. OK, moving on now.