Degradation Trip, Volumes 1 And 2
REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/12/2006
Geniuses that they are, Roadrunner Records wouldn't let Jerry Cantrell, the former Alice in Chains guitarist, release Degradation Trip as a double album, telling him there is no market for double albums these days. So Cantrell took half the songs and release a single CD on the condition he could release this later the same year, with all the songs he wrote in the running order he intended.
It really doesn't matter which one you end up with. While this may be the best work Cantrell's done since Dirt in 1992, it comes off as one long guitar dirge, full of power chords, mournful vocals and winding epics not present in most rock these days.
The record is an ode to Layne Staley, AIC's singer, who died right around the time this album was being written and prepared for release. It is also a commentary by Cantrell about his life -- the loss of friends and family, the rock lifestyle and the permeating sadness that seems to envelop his soul. This is not a happy record, and now at twice the length it's very difficult to get through in one sitting.
It's refreshing to hear that Cantrell hasn't changed with age -- he wrote most of the best Alice in Chains songs and made even the most melancholy power rock sound melodic. But a large part of that charm was Staley's primal heroin-addled howl, and although he is a good singer Cantrell just can't replicate that. It's hard to break out of the expectation that Staley will start singing, since this music is exactly like Alice in Chains, only without the occasional burst of humor and pop sensibility.
What it boils down to is this -- if you like Alice in Chains, you know what you are going to hear, and Cantrell doesn't disappoint. "Anger Rising" is a fiery burst of power that nearly blows out my speakers every time I play it, and those creepy "aaah"s mixed with the descending riffs make for a hell of a song. "Gone" is a slower acoustic-tinged ballad that recalls "Heaven Beside You," and "What It Takes" uses what sounds like African percussion and spare power chords to set the mood, letting Cantrell's voice and the bass do the work. It's one of the few times the mold breaks.
Only one of the 25 songs is under four minutes, and several are longer than six minutes. Unfortunately, now that Cantrell can indulge himself, he often does. Taken individually, the longer epics are compelling, with several mini-parts and plenty of anger and shredding to go around -- but like Metallica's St. Anger record, repetition does not always equal good, especially on a double album.
And many of the songs start off innocently enough but return to familiar ground - heavy guitar dirges with the same tone, Cantrell's Staley-lite voice and basic drumming to augment the melancholia. Again, individually, these are great songs -- the Deep Purple meets King Crimson overtones of "Hurts, Don't It?," the sped-up near-punk "She Was My Girl," and the acoustic/tambourine undertone of "31/32." And, as always, Cantrell's lyrics are soul-searching and far more meaningful than anything on rock radio these days.
But in retrospect, Roadrunner was right to leave this as a single disc. Even Alice in Chains fans may think this is a bit too much of the same thing, and they'd be right. Cantrell can still write a great riff and does a meaningful guitar dirge better than anybody, but doing the same thing 25 times get a bit old.
Still, it's worth a spin for hard rock fans, because after all, this is Jerry Cantrell.