Review Summary: Although not comparable to such masterpieces as Dirt or Jar of Flies, Alice In Chains is still a very good album with only minor shortcomings.
Alice In Chains
Alice In Chains
Alice In Chains is:
Layne Staley (RIP): Vocals, some rhythm guitar
Jerry Cantrell: Lead Guitar, vocals
Mike Inez: Bass
Sean Kinney: Drums
If there is one thing that I can say about the group Alice In Chains, it is that they are very consistent with their albums. 'Facelift' was mostly just hard rock with plenty of distortion, 'Dirt' was grungey as hell with songs dealing with drugs and depression, and 'Jar Of Flies' was full of acoustic numbers with lyrics dealing with loneliness and forgiveness. I can easily say the same about their fourth record, the self titled 'Alice In Chains' (third if you do not include the EP, Jar of Flies.) As you listen to the album you will find that the distorted guitar crunch that forms AIC's trademark sound is never far away. Does this make the album boring and predictable? Well, no. Amongst some heavy grunge songs you will find some wonderful ballads such as the masterpiece of 'Heaven Beside You' or the delightful album closer, aptly named 'Over Now'
One of the most definable characteristics of AIC are the vocals, provided by both deceased singer Layne Staley and guitarist Jerry Cantrell. They are both very experienced singers, with some great vocal harmonies on 'Heaven Beside You'. Staley sings lead much more often on this album than Jerry, which can have some negative effects to songs. Gone are his epic screams of the past, with his heroin abuse destroying his voice to more of a croak than a wail. On some songs, such as the seven minute epic 'Frogs', this can sound quite interesting and add to the overall grungey effect. On others such as 'God Am' his voice sounds rather weak.
These minor problems with deteriorating voices do not detract from the music itself, which on the most part is quite brilliantly executed. Jerry Cantrell is a very talented guitarist, and he does what he does best here, with some massive, crunching riffs. The soloing is an album highlight, with 'Sludge Factory' and 'Brush Away' containing some very nice guitar work. 'Head Creeps' has a very catchy, memorable riff, and although it drags on for a bit too long, it is an album highlight, distorted vocals and guitar both.
As with other AIC albums, the songwriting deals mostly with rather depressing subject matter, especially drugs and depression. 'Nothin' Song' has some very good (albeit strange) lyrics that deal with drug addiction and how it ruins lives.
The only flaw that I can really see as being a problem is the fact that the album in unnecessarily long. 'Sludge Factory', 'Head Creeps' and occasionally 'Frogs' all suffer from slow sections, while songs such as 'So Close' and 'God Am' are practically rehashes of previous songs. The longer songs all have sections where the instruments just continue to play their respective riffs over and over, with no respective vocals interrupting the growing monotony. Sometimes this can work in the songs favour, such as in 'Frogs' where everything seems to slow down, creating a strange, psychedelic effect. More often than not however, the length can start to drag some songs down.
In conclusion, Alice In Chains is a very good album with several very good songs. The ballads of 'Heaven Beside You' and 'Over Now' help give the album some flavour, and in the end this album can provide a very enjoyable listen. Out of the whole AIC discography, this is probably their least accessible album, and I would recommend listening to it several times, or listening to their earlier work as to appreciate their style.
- Unique sounding, not like other AIC albums.
- Vocal harmonies with Jerry and Layne.
- Good instrumentation, with catchy riffs and nice solos.
- Lyrics are good, although often depressing as hell.
- 'Over Now' and 'Heaven Beside You' are 5/5 tracks.
- Layne's heroin weakened voice.
- Some songs drag on a bit too long.
- Production is sub par.
- The least accessible AIC release.
Recommended Songs (Download or Die)
- Heaven Beside You
- Nothin' Song
- Over Now