Chris Cornell is a god among men. While Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder had unique and distinctive voices that defined the early 90s grunge scene, there is no denying that Cornell is as close to a perfect voice radio rock has had since Robert Plant. And Higher Truth is as close to a literal solo album as one can get (like Billy Corgan on Siamese Dream, Trent Reznor on Pretty Hate Machine, or Dave Grohl on the first Foo Fighters album); it is one man playing essentially all roles with few exceptions. The recording process for that type of album can be rather tedious and exhausting for the artist; however, it also allows them to build the instrumentals however they want by having control of every single note and beat without the possibility of a band getting in the way.
As a multi instrumentalist, Cornell is about as good as it gets. You name it, odds are, he can play it. But, by taking away the element of having a live backing band, even if its just you alone with a guitar, a certain amount of synergy in lyrical delivery is bound to be lost. Yes, not even Chris Cornell, the man with the voice of an angel, can fake the chemistry that comes with a live recording. Take 2001s Songbook or the bootleg Unplugged In Sweden (which I can't recommend enough), and youll see what I mean. It was Cornells live presence that made those recordings so good.
The opening track Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart features some charming mandolin and the layers expand out from there before finally being topped off by Chris vocals like a sonic cherry, a somewhat distant cherry, detached from its stem. All of the songs seemed to carry the theme of time, the passing of it, the changes that come with it. As Chris has gotten older, he has matured as a songwriter. He acts his age, showing what he has learned while acknowledging that, in the big picture, he knows essentially nothing. His youthful arrogance has has been replaced by self awareness and understanding.
On about my second listen of Higher Truth, I recognized something so distinct, so nuanced, and I knew I had heard it before...the mix; it was perfect. Every note, beat, and pluck could be easily isolated and digested by the ear. Brendan OBrian is responsible for this meticulous mixing, and if you dont know his name, trust me, you know his work. What I recognized his style from was Pearl Jams 2009 remix of their magnum opus, Ten Redux (which I also cant recommend enough.) Brendan puts the same ever-growing level of care into each new album he produces and Higher Truth is no exception.
The album as a whole is what we imagine you'd get if you made a computer generated Chris Cornell solo album; it is just what you would expect and nothing more, almost lacking the human element that makes some of previous efforts so great.