Alice In Chains : Alice In Chains
*There are rumors that the artwork came from the fact that AIC more and more felt like a three piece with Staley's addiction going out of hand.*
Released : November 21, 1995
Recorded : Spring/Summer 1995
Genre : Grunge
Lenght : 64 min 48 sec
Label : Columbia
Producer : Toby Wright
Alice in Chains is the name of their last album, but it's often called Tripod because of the three-legged dog on the cover. Layne Staley doesn't use his powerful voice, but Jerry Cantrell sings with Layne on most songs. This is not a record for people who aren't used to AIC and is often suggested to be the last album in your AIC listening sessions. I had to listen to it a lot of times before I started enjoying the music, and I still don't cope with some of the songs but the easy songs you can start with are : Heaven Beside You, Over Now and Shame In You. After a while you get other favourites but these mellow ones will start you off nicely.
Before you buy/listen/download be aware of these points:
This is a good record but take your time, it's not an easy listen at all, or a short one for that matter. If you're a casual listener do not listen to this. This record requires effort and patience. The best way to do this is by listening to the album while lying on your bed with your eyes closed. The vocal style and the guitar playing is different than the Dirt era AIC. Don't expect songs simillar to Would?, Man In The Box or Angri Chair.
This is the first time AIC used the standard (EADGBE) tuning in some songs since Bleed The Freak (Facelift song).
This can easilly be seen as a more mature take on songwriting. The way I see it there are two types of sounds on this album. The first type tries to portray atmosphere and melody. It's not the atmosphere I mentioned in the Facelift review though. Imagine a mellow sludge metal type of sound blended with an experimental grunge rock sound. Put Layne and Jerry on top of the blend and you get the first type. The second type is best described as a riff based fusion of Dirt and Jar Of Flies.
The other thing that's interesting on this album is that there are only two solo songs, one by Cantrell and one by Staley. Unlike their other work this album more than any other gives us a glimpse of what the rhytm section can come up with. In the wake of that we have long songs with endings that sound like the band is just jaming and playing around with different sound structures. Sean Kinney's best druming moments are on this CD.
Flat out negative points are: 1) The production is the biggest complaint.It sounds rushed and not well mixed, at all. The sound is extremly drowned and dry at many points throughout the album. 2) The second biggest complaint are the vocals that sound dry and emotionless, partly also due to bad mixing. 3) The third biggest complaint is monotony. That sums up the bad parts so be aware of these before you listen.
Track By Track Guide :
1) Grind (4:45)
– The first single makes a heavy intro indeed. The song is based on two guitar parts blending with each other, one playing rhythm, the other playing a ghouly lead riff over the grinding rhytm. The 0:22 – 0:32 lead guitar part reminds me of The Mission Impossible theme song. The rhytm guitar is played by Mike or Layne. The chorus is catchy and leads off the second time to an effect based solo by Jerry. The riffs repeat again and again but they don't get boring. Staley's vocal parts are good and memorable but fail to match the high standard I have for his performances. (Written By : Cantrell)
2) Brush Away (3:22)
– This song comes off nicely after Grind. The intro guitar playing a nice reverbed melody soon turns the distortion pedal on. The riff is enjoyable and the bass is doing some moderately interesting parts in the backround. The drums are simple/unimpressive and just keeping a low profile steady rhytm.Layne's singing is better than Grind but is somewhat flat. The song is singable and keeps a catchy rhytm throghout. Good but not excellent or amazing and may as well be the worst song in the first five ciclus. ( Written By : Cantrell, Inez, Kinney, Staley)
3) Sludge Factory (7:12)
– The best song on the record is also the second longest one. It's an experience with many interesting and experimental moments. The song starts with a sludgy distorted riff and some unusual high pitched singing done by Layne. The drumming is unusual and will be noticed by anyone other than the casual listener. The lyrics are complex and perhaps the best on the CD. As you listen through the song you'll notice that this is an atmosphere oriented song with the drop d guitar tunings adding alot to the heaviness and rawness of the track.2:48 features the first in the series of unusual guitar solos layered over the sludgy melody. The chorus also has some nice lead playing. The thing that amazes the most is that the guitar plays almost a clean blues influenced melody over the dark riff.4.33 features the start of the second solo and it's a long one with Cantrell soloing for over a minute and a half. During the second solo a cool and unusual whispering part is heard and it sounds like the whispers are fused into each other and not understandable. During the best solo moments the whispers turn to loud words and overpower everything : ''Your weapon is killed'' three times before the real experimental part begins with everything just going crazy. The drums change pace and the rhytm guitar slides through chords while the third solo punishes the listener with havoc that would fit Radiohead's National Anthem quite nicely. The solo drags out and fades to end this monster. This song is also featured on AIC's Unplugged. It's shorter and many people prefer it over this version so be sure to check out both if you have the chance. I will give this song a 5/5 but be careful if you don't like unusual avant-garde sounding parts the last minute or so definetly won't be to your liking. (Written By : Cantrell, Kinney, Staley)
4) Heaven Beside You (5:28)
– The into gets you hooked from the beginning. It's an acoustic melody accompanied with Jerry's magnificent song-writing layered on top. The wonders he does with his lead guitar on this record are so not typical even for today's high standards. On Unplugged the lead is not played by Layne. Instead they have this other guy play it while Jerry does the acoustic picking. The melody continues with Jerry singing alone this time with Layne kicking in during the chorus. They harmonize nicely through the chorus and you'll notice the sound is getting heavier and heavier but eventually does not explode. Instead at 2:02 the acoustic is back and we're in for another verse. That kinda of structure continues throughout. The song never comes to the point of erupting like Sludge Factory did. Still the song has it's heavy parts but the unplugged flow of the song predominates and you'll notice when looking back on the song you'll remember it as an unplugged piece. This ballad type song is their most well known single of the record. (Written By : Cantrell, Inez)
5) Head Creeps (6:28)
– Another long one.This time it's a Staley solo effort and what a song it is. This is perhaps the fan favourite off the album as it's sound returns slightly to the riff based song structures of Dirt and Facelift. While you will be impressed by the initial gloom of the song it may sound repetetive after a while.Well, it gets but there's no denying this song owns. It's one of the real rare AIC headbangable songs. The singing sounds paranoid and the lyrics are focused on rhyme structuring. The best druming moment on the CD by Sean Kinney intros us accompanied with a great rhytm riff of a chugged single power chord. Layne starts the verse soon after and before you know it you're totally into the song. While the singing is nearly not as catchy as Heaven Beside You the rhyme will get you interested in what Staley is talking about. Along with Man In The Box, Would? and a few others this makes a great song to play at an alternative party. One thing that this song lacks is Jerry's lead guitar touch. The ending is weirdly slowed down but it's nowhere near Sludge Factory. I'll give this song a 4/5 but it may as well be a better song than Grind. (Written By : Staley)
6) Again (4:05)
– The second single right after Grind was a big radio hit back in 1996 and if you were into music back than it's a safe bet you heard it already. This song doesn't make you headband like Head Creeps but has a good riff and noticable druming.But the best part of the song isn't the druming or the guitar riffs but the vocals. Notice how the 0:50 – 1:10 Layne singing part changes the pace of the song completely. The drums are getting more aggressive and the guitar is getting faster. The grungiest song on the record, unlike the ballad Heaven Beside You, seems so well put and not out of place. The standard song structure continues up to 2:15 where a nice little riff oriented interlude shines. The high pitched sound during the first solo is actually Jerry Cantrell striking his highest voice notes. The verse/chorus/inerlude leads to the second solo which ends the song. Overall a good song but nothing you'll remember in a week or so.(Written By : Cantrell, Staley)
7) Shame In You (5:35)
– This song is a ballad type sing-along. It's concentrated on the vocals and is easy to get into as it's not experimental or difficult to listen. This song seems out of place though, and while HBS also seemed out of place this song doesn't quite hit the standard of the first ballad. The biggest complaint is the production which is unclear and muddy. The song enters with a good clean riff layered over a slow paced drum beat. Layne has a beautiful voice on this track but fails to keep you interested for 5:35 and you'll most likely lose your concentration as the song is quite average. What this song really lacks are Jerry's lead guitar magic moments, for the lack of better word, better production and a small dose of heaviness put in the mix. However the awesome outro starting 4:34 makes me think this song is more than just filler alone. The song gets better after a few listens so don't discard it at your first. (Written By : Cantrell, Inez, Kinney, Staley)
8) God Am (4:08)
– God Am is a strange song. It starts with a ghouly lead guitar intro eventually leading off into a slow muddy rhytm riff. It is a quite avarage repetetive song with boring riffs. I honestly don't know what to make out of it. I'll recognise the drumming is good and the guitar part starting 2:31 is enjoyable. The outro is awful. Some claim this is one of the best songs on the CD. I can't see the greatness but I can definetly recognise that people have different opinions. (Written By : Cantrell, Inez, Kinney, Staley)
9) So Close (2:45)
– A short fast paced song. This is where the record loses it a bit. It's a nice listenable song on it's own, but nothing I'll remember by the end of the day. May as well be the worst song on the CD and compared to it, God Am sounds great. The production is the worst on the CD and the ending is just godawful. This is pure filler and not worth your time. Skip it if you please. (Writteny By : Cantrell, Kinney, Staley)
10) Nothin' Song (5:40)
– Finally an interesting song with excellent most probably heroin inspired lyrics. Seriously check them out. They are freaky with Layne using peanutbutter metaphors and weird 7:38 references. Seriously how can you put peanutbutter on the brain? The song starts with a guitar strumming a one chord riff layered over some percussion work and accompanied by Layne's howling vocals. Soon the distortion kicks in and we're in it for a verse with great harmonizing vocal melodies.1:25 features one of the best moments on the CD with the guitar doing this cool 2 tone riff and Layne and Jerry harmonizing, doing some normal and hillbilly tones . Another verse and we're back for the great chorus.Everything flows nicely. Now remember that part in Sludge Factory when the vocals kinda mix together. Well the same thing happens here, during the interlude after the second chorus, but it's not nearly as good as the Sludge Factory part. After this the song basically repeats the verse, chorus, interlude and outros with a wah wah fade out.A great song and a breath of fresh air after the two mediocre ones. (Written By : Cantrell, Kinney, Staley)
11) Frogs (8:18)
– An interesting piece. It's a slow paced dark song that seems to be one of the favourites of the album. At first I didn't like this song at all but it grew on me and I quite enjoy it now. Lets start from the beginning. This slow paced eight minute epic enters the scene with the guitar doing this creepy riff with mellow distortion only adding to the creepiness. This is the only track on the record where the bad production actually does the band a favour. It perfectly blends with the feeling the song's trying to portray. One of dreamy depression. The lyrics caught my attention this time. At first I wanted to see what the song was about but then I noticed the first four lines or so :
''What does friend mean to you?A word so wrongfully abused'' is something we can all find ourselves in.
''All included but you, Alone...'' lines which I believe really show Layne wasn't finding comfort in heroin.
Back to the music. The music is calm, soothing and great to listen to with headphones while lying in bed at night. The 5:00 – 8:18 part can get you dreamy with the bass repeating the same line over and over again and the drums doing this hypnotizing beat. The guitar gets a bit experimental on this part but nothing over the top. The vocals are peacefully spoken and may lull you a bit. Listen to the vocal part between 7:41 – 7:45, sounds exactly like Maynard (Tool, A Perfect Circle). Just something I noticed. (Written By : Cantrell, Inez, Kinney, Staley)
12) Over Now (7:03)
– A great peaceful moment intros us Over Now. It's not just the end of the record, it's the last studio song they ever made. If I could chose any song from this record to be the closer track, any at all, I would still choose this. This track is incredibly beautiful with Jerry doing the singing. He sings : ''It's over now''. For AIC it really was over. I mean, sure they did Unplugged a year later, but man, the group didn't tour since the release of Jar Of Flies. Awesome guitar moments accompanied by some piano fills, nice drumming and great vocals all packed together form what may as well be the song that makes you forget all the bad moments this album has, all the weak production, the monotony, depressive too long songs, bad endings. Everything, it's one of those closer tracks that really makes you change your mind about the record as a whole. Makes you reconsider your opinion. A few tracks can do that.This is one of them. (Written By : Cantrell, Kinney, Staley)
Alice In Chains on this record are:
Layne Staley - Guitar, Vocals
Jerry Cantrell - Guitar, Vocals
Mike Inez - Guitar, Bass
Sean Kinney - Drums, Artwork
Final Grade : 3.5
Great album but due to some production problems and some overall bad songs this is really the highest grade I can give. Slightly superior to Facelift but not as good as Dirt or Jar Of Flies. I originally gave this album a 4 but changed my mind later on. Now I think this is more a 3.5 than a 4.