Episode V: Alice in Chains
Despite the huge success of their EP Jar of Flies
, Alice in Chains never even got around to touring for the album. By the time, Staley’s drug addiction was becoming a greater burden than ever, and eventually led to all tour dates being cancelled, simply because he wasn’t in a condition to perform. This even led to a short hiatus during 1995. During that period, however, Staley partially recovered, and would form the supergroup Mad Season
with Mike McCready (Pearl Jam
), John Baker Sounders (The Walkabouts
) and Barrett Martin (Screaming Trees
). They released only one album, Above
Afterwards Staley got back with the rest of Alice, and although it was still a difficult process, they managed to create their third and last studio album, which was self-titled. In Staley’s absence, Cantrell had been working on solo material, but this was instead used as a starting point for the new album when Staley unexpectedly returned.
Alice in Chains’ Alice in Chains was:
- Layne Thomas Staley (R.I.P.) ~ Lead Vocals, Rhythm Guitar
- Jerry Fulton Cantrell ~ Lead Guitar, Vocals, Lead Vocals on Grind
, Heaven Beside You
and Over Now
- Michael Jennings ~ Bass Guitar
- Sean Howard Kinney ~ Drums, Artwork
And the difficult recording process resulted what is also a difficult listen. In a way, Alice in Chains
is even more depressing than Dirt
, and is often sludgy-sounding. With Staley being the main man behind the lyrical content, a great many songs are vague, undoubtedly caused by his condition. He sounds like he’s indeed trapped in something he cannot get out of, creating some of the band’s most unpleasant and strained material. In the same way as the infamous Dirt
, this is also what becomes the album’s downfall, and an even greater one. Dirt
may have had unpleasant material, but most of it was hidden behind a layer of heavy, metallic instrumentation. Alice’s 3rd album gives way to the sludgy tone, and became the sound of the real troubled Alice in Chains.
Particularly the middle part suffers heavily from this, and are negatively driven by a mumbling and vaguely wailing Staley, who doesn’t know where he’s going anymore half of the time. With the added sludgy instrumentation, tracks like Shame in You
, God Am
and So Close
don’t quite become success stories, and Head Creeps
are merely passable.
Cantrell’s material is a definite counter to this, and his three contributions sound surprisingly happy when compared to the other nine. Grind
also features vocal distortion, but is actually driven by the more upbeat and melodic vocals it also contains, and the only true Alice ballad Heaven Beside You
certainly isn’t perfect, but makes up for it by being honest and down-to-earth. Over Now
is a bit of an enigma. It seems a perfect fit for the band’s last studio tracks with Staley, obviously because of its title, and succeeds in everything BESIDE the vocals, which sound happy where depressing is what is expected of them.
The troubled sound that dominates the album, however, certainly pays off at moments. The lengthy Sludge Factory
is an impressive take, having one of Staley’s very best performances, and is also one of the examples that shows that the sludgy instrumentation can work quite well. Nothin’ Song
makes the mumbling vocals Staley provides work because the acidy guitar section complements it so well, and the longest track Frogs
is a bit of a grower, but positively slow and dreamy.
The final issue with Alice’s third is its length. 12 tracks, 3 over 7 minutes, make for a total of 65 minutes, and considering the amount of unsuccessful material, this doesn’t really help in creating a better listening experience. It could have used some cutting down, but the album somehow just feels like it should be left like it has become, unexplainable as it is.
As difficult to get into as it may be, the album can pay off. It is the final studio chapter in the classic Alice in Chains era, and however troubled and flawed at places, it still shows sides to the band that none of its full-lengths or EP’s did before, some tracks providing new and unexpected amazement. Do not expect too much, but do not give up hope after one listen either. Like every Alice in Chains album up to that point, it is most certainly worth the effort.
Heaven Beside You
To be continued...