Review Summary: Although there isn't much new here, Jar of Flies may be the best way to prove that the grunge-metal hybrid that Alice in Chains have created is one of the best hybrids ever made.
Alice in Chains. A Grunge band from Seattle that took grunge and laced it with metal to create some of the best music of the 90s. Often referred to as "the band with the upper hand" in the 90s, due to the unique vocal style of Layne Staley, with back-up vocals from guitarist Jerry Cantrell. This EP easily shows everything Alice can pull off and more, with dark hard rockers, upbeat catchy tunes, heart-felt ballads, and even an instrumental. All accomplished in 7 songs.
The first track, "Rotten Apple", has beautiful instrumentation and Layne's yearning voice. A rather long song, clocking in at 7 minutes, does not drag on one bit. It keeps you listening to the perfect blend of soft drums, a talkbox, and Staley and Cantrell's signature and easily recognizable vocals. The most impressive part of this song may be the guitar solo. I found it to branch away from the otherwise grunge-influenced song and into a bluesy, John Frusciante-esque solo. "Nutshell" is a ballad, probably one of the best grunge band ballads of the 90s. The reason is because you feel what Layne is feeling: sorrow. This reaction comes from the mold of the electric guitar seemingly responding to the soulful acoustic guitar, matching Layne's vocals. The only complaint I can think of is that it could have been longer and I would not have minded.
"I Stay Away" was the biggest hit from Jar of Flies, still played on alt. radio stations from time to time. The first dark hard rocker, has Layne at his best, howling "I Stay Away", with strings following. I don't really think the strings fit at all, the song would have sounded better without. The highlight of this song has got to be the pre-chorus, with a distorted guitar matching the melody of Layne's voice. Next up is "No Excuses", starting off with Sean Kinney (drummer) arguably at his best, because he goes all around the set in the most creative way possible. Definitely shows Cantrell at his best. Again, the guitar solo complements the song greatly. A light sing-along track that takes a few listens to get into. "Whale & Wasp" is an instrumental track that sounds more like something Boston would make. It comes off as repetitive, but hey, it's just an instrumental.
"Don't Follow" is sung by Cantrell, and shows what he can do. I like the use of harmonica in the song, giving it country components, with great use of acoustic guitar and subtle drums. "Swing On This" is a rather unique mix of 60s vocal style and drums, with tasty distorted guitar riffs. Probably the catchiest song on the album. Upbeat in it's own way, you can tell they spent time on this one.
The overall feel I get from this album is a lighter side of Alice in Chains you won't find on any of their other releases. They also show just how diverse they can be, that they can write awesome hard, dark, distorted songs and heart-felt ballads. Jar of Flies shows how talented Jerry Cantrell is, and what a great duo he and Layne are. I recommend all of the tracks, but if you pick up the album be sure to go in order.