Alice In Chains

Columbia, 1992


REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


One of the masterpieces of the grunge and alternative movements, Dirt is a Hellbound trip into drug addiction, loneliness and apathy. There is no redemption, only a primal scream from the depths.

Modern rock owes a lot to this band, especially bands like Godsmack, who took their name from a song on this album. This is miles ahead of Facelift, the band's debut, and few concept records - heck, few records of the decade - came close to matching both the power of the music and the gut-punch despair of the lyrics. Guitarist Jerry Cantrell possesses a truly distinctive roar that powers this descent into madness, but signer Layne Staley's soul is what is truly bared, and his passion and howl has few equals. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The lyrics deal with alienation, death, addiction and a lack of feelings, yet the music is eminently listenable because of its catchy catharsis, even at its most brutal and harrowing. When Staley questions the rain at his funeral, we can picture it. When he tells us he is lonely and small in his hole, we feel it. Staley lived this life instead of posed for it, which gives Dirt its visceral core.

"Them Bones" and "Dam That River" are short metallic bursts, while "Down In A Hole" slowly winds through a dark maze of the soul. "Rooster" is a tribute to Cantrell's Vietnam-vet father and is a set piece, giving way to the ominous "Junkhead" (lyric: "What's my drug of choice? / Well, what have you got?").

There are maybe two too many plodding murky numbers here (like "Hate To Feel"), but it's all forgiven by the closing "Would?". First appearing on the Singles soundtrack, where it did not belong, it ties Dirt together and leaves the listener drained. The grinding rhythm section carries the song, with Cantrell's guitar fills restrained for most of the song. Staley alternately asks for understanding ("So I made a big mistake / Try to see things once my way") and begs for clarity ("Am I wrong / Have I come too far to get home?"), suggesting a self-aware junkie imposed in a prison of his creation, hating what he has become but knowing it is his fault. 

It's the best song Alice in Chains ever wrote on their first and only true masterpiece.

Rating: A-

User Rating: A-


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