by Madeline Rayes

Audioslave

w/Burning Brides

Sat March 22, Paramount, $29.50.

The best thing about Audioslave--the new "supergroup" featuring ex-members of Rage Against the Machine--is singer Chris Cornell. For Soundgarden fans, it's all about hearing the old frontman with such dynamic vocal talent taking to a heavy rock band again. And while some songs on Audioslave's self-titled debut use lame alt-rock sound effects compared to bone-crushing Soundgarden classics off Badmotorfinger and Superunknown, it's still Chris Cornell singing, adding melody and depth to a group (Rage) that previously had little more than annoying staccato rhythm. Grandiose songs like "Set It Off" pour gasoline into the rotting cavities of modern radio rock and Cornell's voice lights the match.

At 38, there isn't much Seattle resident Cornell hasn't done--toured the world, had a kid, sang for packed stadiums--except abstain from drugs and alcohol. On the phone during Audioslave's first week out on the road, a talkative Cornell states bluntly that his highlight so far is "probably doing [the tour] completely sober." Six months into his newly prescribed lifestyle, Cornell says friends were concerned about him hitting the road so soon after rehab, but he easily steers clear of parties. And since he says he never performed loaded, he adds, "It just means that I have more time to write. I would write down song lyrics when I was hammered and think, 'This is great!' And then I'd read them the next day and run to burn them before anybody saw them."

Cornell first became interested in Rage Against the Machine during Lollapalooza 1996, when "rapper" Zack de la Rocha was their frontman, and the group, Cornell says, was "probably the most impressive live rock band that I'd seen." When Rage guitarist Tom Morello called an informal jam session between the two parties a few years later, Cornell confidently stepped to the plate. He says of the first meeting, "I think I was actually kind of cocky. Not cocky like, 'I'm better than you,' but just very confident in the fact that I could stand in front of a microphone and sing and people in the room were going to think it's good." And whether it's with Soundgarden or Audioslave, that's the truth.

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