Episode IV: Jar of Flies
After extensive and tiring tour for their hit Dirt
, in the middle of which bassist Mike Starr left and was replaced by Mike Inez, Alice in Chains found themselves in a position where were not particularly motivated to write new material. They got kicked out of their residence, unable to pay the rent, and sank into a mood of depression. What followed was an experimental session with acoustic guitars, similar to what they had done previously with Sap
‘’We never really planned on the music we made at that time to be released. But the record label heard it and they really liked it. For us, it was just the experience of four guys getting together in the studio and making some music’’ ~ Layne Staley, August 1994
And so that happened. Alice recorded 7 tracks, and they were released on a next EP in early ‘94, which was entitled Jar of Flies
. Although predominantly acoustic, it also features some of their heavier aspects, present on their regular studio albums. The EP was widely praised although being such a spontaneous release, and the band, especially Cantrell, enjoyed working with Inez, praising him for his bass lines.
Jar of Flies’ Alice in Chains was:
- Layne Thomas Staley (R.I.P.) ~ Lead Vocals
- Jerry Fulton Cantrell ~ Lead Guitar, Vocals
- Michael Jennings ~ Bass Guitar, Guitar, Backing Vocals
- Sean Howard Kinney ~ Drums, Percussion
- April Acevez ~ Viola
- Rebecca Clemons-Smith ~ Violin
- Matthew Weiss ~ Violin
- Justine Foy ~ Violin cello
- David Atkinson ~ Harmonica
- Randy Biro ~ Backing Vocals
- Darrel Peters ~ Backing Vocals
Do not be deceived by its acoustics, because Jar of Flies
can be just as dark and haunting as Facelift
, although in a more beautiful appearance. Mike Inez was a welcome addition to the front, and proves he is an equal, if not better a bassist than Starr, providing some very stunningly emotional bass lines, most notably with the album opener Rotten Apple
, where his line is a perfect introduction the entire work, and the very moody Nutshell. The interplay between him and Cantrell is nothing short of fantastic, and provides some of the album’s best experiences, the most unique of these being the sharp contrast between Inez’ opening bass line for Rotten Apple
and the very acid-like riff that Cantrell counters it with.
As for Cantrell himself, his playing once again positively dominates the sound of the album, and both his acoustic and electric playing is amazing. Yet another contrast is created by Staley, who is, unlike he was on Dirt
, very consistent in quality vocals, mixing emotional softness with his trademark wail, sometimes in the same song, best demonstrated by I Stay Away
And Jar of Flies
is not only an album full of contrast, but also full of variation. Definite highlights are the first three, with Nutshell
winning by miles, simply because of its truly heartfelt beauty. Rotten Apple
is gorgeously dark, I Stay Away
features a complete classical backing (most dominantly violins) that actually works tremendously well with the song, No Excuses
is surprisingly upbeat for an Alice in Chains song, and Whale & Wasp
is both strange and captivating. Don’t Follow
is a simple, solid soft track that can’t quite match the rest of Jar
because it lacks depth, but closer Swing On This
on the other hand, has interesting in-song changes, ranging from harmonica-driven to soul-influenced to traditional Staley wails.
It must be concluded, therefore, that Jar of Flies
’ songs are all strong, but more importantly, all very unique. This album binds together everything what Alice in Chains stood and stand for in one of the best way imaginable, while still adding some new elements. It is the underrated classic in their catalogue, and strongly recommended for those not too big on heavy Alice. This EP probably became so great an experience simply because of the way it was written: the band didn’t anyhow put a duty on themselves to release a new album, and what followed was a spontaneous outburst of musical shimmer and genius. A shame that outburst only lasts 30 minutes.
I Stay Away
To be continued...