In the pantheon of rock ‘n’ roll legends, Chris Cornell occupies a unique, and perhaps underappreciated, space. The frontman for Soundgarden and Audioslave, as well as an accomplished solo artist, Cornell was a musician whose vocal versatility, lyrical depth, and emotive power set him apart from his contemporaries. But was his generation truly listening? As the ’90s rock landscape unfolded, overshadowed by the rivalry created between Nirvana and Pearl Jam fans, it seems that Cornell’s voice—the timbre of his highs and lows, the haunting resonance of his lyrical truths—might have been lost in the noise.

Cornell’s vocal range was extraordinary, not just in octaves but in emotional texture. He could transition from a guttural growl to falsetto with the ease that most people change facial expressions. He sang songs that were anthems and elegies, which covered the vast emotional terrain of human experience. And it wasn’t just his original compositions that showcased his skill. His covers were just as riveting, especially his soul-stirring rendition of “Nothing Compares 2 U,” originally by Prince and made famous by Sinéad O’Connor. Cornell’s version carried a raw emotional heft, his voice cracking with vulnerability, evoking a feeling of universal despair that tied together various strains of rock, soul, and blues.

While the media pitted Kurt Cobain against Eddie Vedder, fans joined camps, and the music industry flourished on this divisiveness, Cornell was crafting a repertoire that deserved its own spotlight. His writing ventured into complex themes that mirrored his own struggles with mental health and depression. Songs like Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” or his solo work like “Seasons” delved into the intricacies of human emotion and experience in a way that was often overshadowed by the more publicized narratives of the day.

This lack of focus on Cornell becomes even more poignant when considering his battle with depression and substance abuse. Although his struggles were not as well-documented as some of his contemporaries, they were deeply interwoven into his music. His lyrics served as a soul-baring testament to the pain he felt, the existential crises that often accompany fame and success. This adds a layer of tragedy to his untimely death in 2017; he was a man who had so much to say but perhaps felt he was not being heard, a sentiment shared by many who struggle with mental health issues.

In a generation obsessed with labels and categories, Cornell was an anomaly. His art was not easily confined within the arbitrary boundaries of rock sub-genres. He was a songwriter, a multi-instrumentalist, and above all, an extraordinary vocalist. It’s a shame that the world was too caught up in trivial rivalries to appreciate the depth of what he was offering.

Cornell once said, “I’m not a lyric writer to make statements. What I enjoy doing is making paintings with lyrics, creating colorful images.” And colorful they were—rife with a spectrum of human emotion and experience that most artists only scratch the surface of. As we continue to revisit the works of ’90s rock icons, it’s high time to listen—really listen—to the voice of Chris Cornell, the voice of a generation that, unfortunately, wasn’t paying enough attention.