Originally created 05/26/05

Audioslave charts own course



Supergroups usually aren't anything of the kind.

Blind Faith wasn't nearly as ground-breaking, or creative, as the groups that fed into it: Cream and Traffic.

Crosby, Stills & Nash wasn't as blindingly brilliant as two of their parental units: The Byrds or Buffalo Springfield. (Though they were about even with the Hollies.)

Into this problematic context comes Audioslave.

They're the spawn of two fantastic '90s hard-rock groups that died before their time: Soundgarden and Rage Against the Machine. From the former act came cocky screamer Chris Cornell. From the latter funneled the new group's pummeling musicians: guitarist Tom Morello, bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk.

Unfortunately, Audioslave's self-titled 2002 debut didn't blend their talents into something organically new. It seemed like a corporate merger rather than a rock group. They were in danger of going down as the Asia of their generation.

Miraculously, the band has done a total turnaround for CD No. 2, Out of Exile, in stores Tuesday.

The players have hit upon a sound of their own, rather than resting on a jerry-built recreation of what they had before. By necessity, Slave finds itself defined more by Mr. Cornell, not only because he's the front man, but because Audioslave has none of the rapping or politics that was key to Rage.

In terms of its singer's history, Exile features burlier riffs, better melodies and surer performances than any Cornell project since Soundgarden's last CD, 1996's Down on the Upside.

But Rage's members are hardly playing mere backup. Guitarist Mr. Morello spits out a manic solo in the title track that burns right through the groove. In Be Yourself he offers a wired wah-wah effect that rivals the melody for appeal.

Mr. Morello's only nod toward hip-hop comes in Drown Me Slowly, where he injects some of his patented scratching on the fretboard.

The group had the confidence to add more ballads this time, several of which rank up with Mr. Cornell songs like Black Hole Sun.

Fans looking for the righteousness of Rage, or the panic of its singer, Zack De La Rocha, will be disappointed by definition. But Audioslave deserves points for exuding a macho confidence otherwise rare in modern rock.

Mr. Cornell's Golden God yowls connect current guitar music to its '60s and '70s zenith in a way that could counterbalance some of rock's current slump.

Having finally backed that bravado with songs worthy of it, Audioslave no longer seems like a band exploiting its past but like one charting its future.