Alice In Chains

Alice In Chains

Columbia, 1995

http://www.aliceinchains.com

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/02/2006

Alice In Chains marks the point where the group finally integrated its acoustic and sensitive side with its hard rock side. It also was the last new disc the band would record with singer Layne Staley.

While there are a couple of nifty could-have-been rock singles here, the music is a distillation of the best parts of Dirt and Jar of Flies and doesn't have the impact of the best parts of either. What's on display is a variety of textures and styles that expand the band's sound. 

“Grind” is one hell of an opener, an ear-shredding crunch with great opening lyrics ("In the darkest hole / You'd be well-advised / Not to plan my funeral / 'Fore the body dies"). Ditto for the churning "Again," which covers familiar subject matter with an ominous grind but includes one of the best bridge sections of the band's career. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Brush Away” packs a lower-key wallop unlike most of the band's output, while the rock radio hit “Heaven Beside You” successfully mixes a cool acoustic guitar riff (talk about string-bending!) with solid drumming and Cantrell's vocals, which work better than Staley's would have (although he sings backup in the chorus, adding some muscle).

Where things falter is the second half, which sounds unfinished and lacks focus. "Sludge Factory" is just that, plodding on by at least two minutes too long, while "God Am," Nothing Song" and "Shame In You" are just by-the-numbers grunge, although "So Close" isn't too bad. "Head Creeps" is an example of could-have-been great with a little editing.

The final two songs serve as an effective 15-minute coda for the original band. Staley comes into "Frogs" with the lines “What does friend mean to you? / A word so wrongfully abused / Are you like me, confused? / All included but you...alone” before repeating “Why's it have to be this way” five times in each chorus. He ends with what sounds like a diary entry, but not before the song has fully had a chance to wind through a murky depths-of-hell epic, rendered even more powerful by the guitar restraint.

And that would have been fine, but “Over Now” is the real gem here, as Staley sings “Well it's over now, yet I can see somehow / When it all gone wrong, its hard to be so strong” before he and Cantrell harmonize on “We pay our debts sometime.” Fine guitar work with shades of all that has come before in the band's career - Cantrell lays down solos, sheets of feedback and acoustic arpeggios without abandon - finally deposit the listener on a solitary, goodbye note.

Serving as a swan song for the band, Layne Staley himself and grunge in general (save for Soundgarden's Down on the Upside), Alice in Chains will frustrate fans and not appeal to casual listeners, but at least half of the record ranks with the band's best work.

Rating: B

User Rating: B


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© 2006 Benjamin Ray and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Columbia, and is used for informational purposes only.