Alice in Chains
MTV Unplugged


5.0
classic

Review

by Matthijs van der Lee USER (219 Reviews)
September 28th, 2009 | 28 replies


Release Date: 1996 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Is there a better way to complete an artist's legacy?

Episode VI: MTV Unplugged

It is April 10, 1996. Alice in Chains, almost broken by the severe drug addiction of one of their central figure Layne Staley, get back together to perform a concert for the first time in two and a half years. The MTV Unplugged series is an opportunity for the band to perform an all-acoustic set, providing a completely different, stripped-down experience from the hard-edged outings that most had heard of them before. While some are eagerly expecting a resurface of one of Seattle’s most talented grunge acts, it would prove not to be.

Unplugged would be one of the band’s final performances with Staley, who would continue to face his drug habits. After a very lengthy and unpleasant struggle, in which he remained much isolated from everyone he knew, he finally passed away in April 2002. Though his body was found on the 20th, Staley’s death was estimated to have been 2 weeks before, on April 5th. He had died from a lethal injection of heroin and cocaine, better known as a speedball.

Layne Thomas Staley (August 22, 1967 – c. April 5, 2002)

Alice’s performance on the Unplugged show remains known as one of the most memorable editions of the series, and it is not difficult to understand why. The band was finally performing again after all this time, much to the relief of many, but that is no reason for this performance to be so special. Alice in Chains is facing their end here, and they knew it. The feelings that this must have brought forth for the band, along with the acoustics, solidify a performance that is both soulful and passionate, to the point where you can hear the heavy emotional burden on the musicians flowing right to you through your speakers. Though it is actually visible on the DVD version of the concert, Staley’s struggle is obvious, and he regularly has problems hitting all the notes without sounding forced. This, however, only adds to the emotional depth that this album has to offer, and comes across as an extra, heartfelt edge to the music, rather than an irritation.

The acoustic recreation of Alice’s studio work by Cantrell and Inez is flawless, and creates an intimate atmosphere, a side to the band previously unheard even on Sap and Jar of Flies. While Cantrell’s performance is the most standout (his skill with an acoustic guitar is nothing short of remarkable), Inez’ low, moody bass lines are overall more audible than the bass guitar ever was on a Alice in Chains record, and showcase incredible playing strength. Though Kinney has always been the least striking performer of the boys, mostly because his drumming isn’t very straightforward, his calm but thoughtful rhythm patterns are in fact quite underrated, and also very well produced here. The production is one of the album’s greatest assets, and doesn’t allow any of the instruments to drown the others.

The set list is perfect for the occasion, and the only classic Alice material that is NOT featured would have only detracted from the concert. Surely you weren’t expecting an acoustic We Die Young, Man in the Box or Them Bones, were you? There are SOME exceptions to this rule, however. While Sludge Factory, Angry Chair, Rooster and Would? may seem slightly out of place, the former two are actually surprisingly fresh versions. The irritating, robotic ending of Sludge Factory has been omitted, and though the bleak feel doesn’t remain, the acoustic recreation gives way to the true dark nature of the song, which is, in a way, much better conveyed than on its original. Angry Chair is as moody and sinister as ever, and the bass, a central part of the song, is superior to Dirt’s version.

The only drawbacks then, are two of Alice’s very best, Rooster and Would?, which both ultimately require the dark distortion and powerful vocals that made them so fantastic in the first place, something the band is not in the right situation for to provide. It doesn’t mean they are complete letdowns, but they remain the two least great moments in the set.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the very best moments Unplugged provides come from the material that was already softer in the first place, predominantly found on Alice’s EP’s. Nutshell is a perfect opener, and the band couldn’t have picked a better tone-setter, but the melancholic Brother and upbeat No Excuses can easily match it. Ballads Got Me Wrong and Heaven Beside You are two other excellent additions, but the surprise among the softies, so to say, lies in Down in a Hole, which was as close to a softer output as Dirt could ever get, and feels even more down-to-earth (no pun intended) than ever.

And yes, they save one of the best for the last. The previously unheard Killer is Me, heavily influenced by the material on Sap, most particularly Brother, certainly has the potential to rank among the AiC classics, and closes off one hell of a fantastic show.

While it is a classic performance, and arguably the best Alice in Chains album, Unplugged would also mark the end to what the band would never manage to achieve again. Alice’s classic era was over after the day this concert was performed, and they damn well knew it. It is the final entry into a legacy that will be long remembered, and of course they have produced another excellent record in Black Gives Way to Blue, but while listening to that, we just can’t help but think back to those days, the days where Alice was a brilliant, unique and influential force in the musical world.

But those days are over.

Alice in Chains’ MTV Unplugged was brought to you by courtesy of:

- Layne Thomas Staley (R.I.P.) ~ Lead Vocals, Rhythm Guitar
- Jerry Fulton Cantrell ~ Lead Guitar, Vocals
- Michael Jennings ~ Bass Guitar, Guitar
- Sean Howard Kinney ~ Drums
- Scott Olson ~ Bass Guitar, Guitar


THE END



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user ratings (862)
Chart.
4.3
superb
other reviews of this album
temporary (3)
...

Spence D. (5)
A stripped down live accoustic performance from Alice In Chains which grasps at the ehart of its lis...

comm (4.5)
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teamsleep698 (5)
A great, great, album. So great a classic in my book. Rivals the live unplugged show of Nirvana. Wil...


Comments:Add a Comment 
Nagrarok
September 28th 2009


8465 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

50 and counting.

Meatplow
September 28th 2009


5524 Comments


Yeah, this is a great release.

LepreCon
September 28th 2009


4823 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

Probably the best 'Unplugged' album from a grunge band, though Nirvana's was pretty sweet too. Awesome review, congrats on 50, Nagrarok

KILL
September 28th 2009


74378 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

yea nirvanas is immense, but i prefer this a little

Greggers
September 28th 2009


2375 Comments


Happy 50th review :D

Romulus
September 28th 2009


8478 Comments


Still can't believe Staley and Cobain died on the same day

Nagrarok
September 28th 2009


8465 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Estimated to have died on the same day, so they're not really sure.

Emim
September 28th 2009


26717 Comments


I gotta say man, you are definitely one of the top reviewers on here. Great as always.

EVedder27
September 28th 2009


6088 Comments


Excellent review. I still haven't heard this yet, but I will get it soon.

Merkaba33
September 28th 2009


702 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

sputnik really seems to embrace this album. can't believe how allmusic shat all over this album.

jagride
September 28th 2009


2502 Comments


Nutshell is great. Now i need to find whatever studio album its on?

Digging: Royal Flush - 976-DOPE

Romulus
September 28th 2009


8478 Comments


Jar of Flies. Go get it now.

Metalstyles
Staff Reviewer
September 28th 2009


8503 Comments


The production of one of the album’s greatest assets, and doesn’t allow any of the instruments to drown the others.
The production is one of the...
It doesn’t mean they are complete letdowns, but they remain the two least great moments in the set.
would be better if worded: but they remain as the two least impressive songs in the set.
I will pos right away though as 1) i know you are going to change those little nitpicks and 2) the review is just damn-well writte, great job man, and I'm looking forward to reading your review about AiC's new outing.

Chewie
September 28th 2009


4535 Comments


very, very, very well done set of reviews

LepreCon
September 28th 2009


4823 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

123, one of the best reviewers on this site.

jagride
September 28th 2009


2502 Comments


Thanks romgsom. I'm an AIC noob

Nagrarok
September 28th 2009


8465 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

can't believe how allmusic shat all over this album.


Their review is indeed making no sense to me, and not because of the rating, but because of their reasoning.



Jar of Flies. Go get it now.


More like NOW if you please.



I'm looking forward to reading your review about AiC's new outing.


Have to dissapoint you there. It already has 2 reviews, and I don't feel I can really add anything to what has been written by those before me.

LepreCon
September 28th 2009


4823 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

I think you should still do it. It hasn't nearly gotten to the stage of 'too many positive reviews' yet. And to complete the discography wouldn't be a pitiful feat by any stretch of the imagination, not that you haven't done extremely well already.

Nagrarok
September 28th 2009


8465 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Or... maybe I considered reviewing only the original Alice in Chains in the first place. Plus, I wrote this specifically like the final piece in the set.

LepreCon
September 28th 2009


4823 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

I hadn't thought of that. Fair enough, I can see where you're coming from



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