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By Michael Henningsen & Stewart Mason

OCTOBER 11, 1999: 

Chris Cornell Euphoria Morning (A&M)

At first, I wondered if it was just me. But after two solid weeks of listening to Chris Cornell's solo debut, I came to the realization that the once proud, confident leader of Seattle's Soundgarden had not only softened, he'd become a mere shadow of who he -- and his former band -- once was. Granted, the single "Can't Change Me" is as solid an effort as most latter-day Soundgarden, but Euphoria Morning as a whole is anything but euphoric. In fact, the album falls flat when one might assume that part of the reason Soundgarden called it quits was that Cornell felt fenced in by the almighty trend.

It is possible, of course, that such a harsh perspective is simply the product of having been conditioned to a definitive sound behind one of the most powerful voices of '90s rock, but Euphoria Morning is clearly more a result of a token recording contract squandered than it is a breakout debut by an artist who, along with a fantastic cast, had much to do with the survival of insurgent rock. And that's just sad.

Of the 12 tracks (the industry limit as far as royalty payments are concerned) that comprise Cornell's freshman solo effort, only the "single" is worthy of compliment. The performances are solid elsewhere on the record, but the innovative songwriting just isn't present.

Rather than representing the Soundgarden record that never was, Euphoria Morning is a masturbatory effort that lingers somewhere between an unrealized creative dream and the almost effortless exercise -- heavy on imagination -- that for Cornell's former band was the standard. Don't expect any surprises here, just the humdrum antics of another grunge casualty. (Michael Henningsen)

The Field Mice Where'd You Learn To Kiss That Way? (Shinkansen)

From 1987 to 1995, Bristol, England's Sarah Records was the best label in the world, releasing a series of mysterious but engaging indie-pop masterpieces by bands like Heavenly, the Orchids and a retiring duo called the Field Mice. Michael Hiscock and Bobby Wratten, later joined by the intoxicating singer Annemari Davies, were diffident geniuses able to create intensely personal yet instantly accessible classics out of exactly the same materials as seemingly every other indie band in the UK: artless male/female vocals with a tendency to wander off key at times, acoustic and quiet electric guitars alternately jangly and gauzy, and a rhythm section that sounds like they're playing in a library.

Collecting nearly their entire output, including the original version of St. Etienne's "Kiss and Make Up," on two gorgeously packaged CDs, this 36-song retrospective is an essential look back at one of the decade's finest pop bands. (Stewart Mason)

John Popper Zygote (A&M)

Long guilty of mistaking notes-per-second as bona fide soul, Blues Traveler harmonica player John Popper gives up the groovaliciousness of his day job band in exchange for a sound that's heavy on the "look what I can do" and short on any semblance of musicality. Zygote is largely unlistenable as Popper blows his brains out through the diatonic and chromatic holes in his mouth harp. If Charlie Musselwhite were dead, he'd be rolling over in his grave.

Popper's voice is as unmistakable as his harp passages, but both are shamelessly overwrought on Zygote, to the point where the listener is driven to nothing short of a tri-state killing spree. Even his occasional duels with keyboardist Rob Clores come across like so many fingernails across a chalkboard.

There was really no reason for Popper to make a solo record other than his own boredom with H.O.R.D.E. tour obscurity and an overabundance of hippie dancing that would wear on just about any touring musician. But with Zygote, all Popper has accomplished is offering the shoeless hippie hordes more fodder with which to become one with the ceiling or sky. He's a talented player to be sure, but Zygote is an entirely unnecessary reminder of his virtuosity. And with the recent death of Blues Traveler bassist Bobby Sheehan, one speculates -- and lies awake in fear -- about the possibility that we've all just been sentenced to a life of more harmonica than we deserve. Damn the future. Damn it to hell. (Michael Henningsen)

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