Review Summary: Haunting. Dark. Eerily odd. Different. These words all describe Alice in Chains' Jar of Flies.
Alice in Chains' EPs were a much different release for them then most bands; whereas most bands release EPs as leftovers that didn't make the final cut for an album, Alice in Chains' EPs have always been a complete off-pace change of direction for Alice in Chains. Their first EP, Sap
was much slower, mostly acoustic, and a lot different than their debut, Facelift
. Where Facelift
bordered on metal, Sap
and Jar of Flies
were sometimes bordering on folk music, or country. Sap
was a bit immature, ballad-heavy change of pace for Alice in Chains; but Jar of Flies
was much, much different than Sap
quite simply because this album is so much more mature, different, and feels so original and unique.
Even though this album was recorded in the span of a week, its easily my favorite Alice in Chains release. The album's quick changes, diversity, and 'feeling' it gave me attracted me to it, and easily made it one of my favorite albums of the middle 90s. Rotten Apple
sets the tone for the album with its bassline and voicebox effects and mood-setting guitar riffs, while Swing on This
ends the album on a much more poppy note with its beats and the vocal harmony between Staley and Cantrell. While many of the songs have the same structure, the songs all hold their own integrity because it seems they all have a strange vocal harmony, guitar riff, drum beat, or rhythm.
Not to mention many of the album's songs have a dark vibe, or 'tone' to them. Its possibly because Layne Staley was wasted and stoned most of the week they recorded it. The album just has a feel of being in an empty room, with no way out at certain points in the music; in songs like Rotten Apple
, or Nutshell
, the twisted, almost acoustic guitar riffs set the mood set the mood while Layne Staley adds to the effect with his haunting vocals.
The next two tracks, I Stay Away
and No Excuses
are a complete change from anything Alice in Chains had done up to the moment. Wild guitar riffs and effects littered with quick rhythm changes are scattered about the next two songs. I Stay Away
opens up with a simple acoustic guitar riff featuring Layne Staley's most powerful vocals on the album up until the 'chorus' where it breaks down with a weird electric guitar backdrop where Layne Staley whines and moans almost as if its a simple guitar scale; before the song goes right back to where it starts and repeats itself before No Excuses
is introduced which opens up with a simple drum beat opened by a truly odd guitar effect and riff before Layne Staley's vocals blend in with the guitar riff. The chorus is a bit more typical, the guitar riffs disappear in favor for a more simplistic guitar chord. The song is very catchy, and actually seems to lighten your mood; as far as this album can.
Swing on This
is easily the most strange Alice in Chains song ever; if not the strangest song associated with the grunge movement. The guitar riffs and beats are odd and sound like a folk song. Layne Staley's voice is strange just like the song, and blends in very well with the beats in the song. The song's beat and rhythms are more catchy than the lyrics; but the song still is an Alice in Chains classic-quite simply because its so strange.
But let's go back to where Jar of Flies
really shines; the darker songs. Whale and Wasp
still has kept its haunting charm throughout all the years. With Cantrell in the background with a simplistic acoustic guitar riff, there's a loud, echoing guitar riff that overpowers everything before fading away. The song seems to repeat itself, with no vocals, but just as haunting as any other songs that feature his vocal abilities. Don't Follow
is quite deceptive and a nice change of pace. Starting off with a soothing, yet creepy introduction where Staley mumbles and whines it seems opens it up before a harmonica comes in and the song picks up and Staley pulls out some of his most powerful vocals.
By the end, Jar of Flies
comes off as a diverse adventure that incorporates many styles and shows what truly set Alice in Chains apart from all their fellow grunge counterparts. The lyrics are dark but the album gets overwhelmingly depressing in many spots not because of the lyrics; but the eerie guitar work, quick rhythm changes, and Layne Staley's always haunting vocals. By the end, its a shockingly dark and haunting piece of music that just happens to be Alice in Chains' best work.