Alice in Chains
Jar of Flies


5.0
classic

Review

by SitarHero USER (33 Reviews)
May 7th, 2012 | 39 replies


Release Date: 1994 | Tracklist

Review Summary: In a Nutshell: A haunting, beautiful, tragic, and effortlessly superb piece of art.

One of the underrated qualities that separate great artists from merely good artists is the ability to evolve and reinvent themselves; the ability to stay away from formula and the temptation of sticking with safe and previously-tread ground. They always run the dual risks of alienating their existing fanbase, which might be more than a little resistant to change, and gaining the “sellout”/”trend-whore” label. However, while there is some merit to artists who doggedly and perhaps heroically refuse to compromise on their single-minded devotion to a particular artistic aesthetic no matter the irrelevance of said aesthetic *cough* AC/DC *cough*, there is undoubtedly more to be gained from art, both for the artist as well as the fan, from growth and expansion. Arriving on the heels of the classic full-length Dirt, the Jar of Flies EP cements Alice in Chains’ status as great artists. The band’s growth from album to album is palpable and rather than rest on their laurels after creating Dirt, the band continues to hone and improve on its craft. It is also a testament to the band’s greatness that despite Jar of Flies’ brevity, and the fact that the EP was written and recorded in just one week, the material on this album, is on par with pretty much any other grunge album you may care to name and exceeds most.

'Jar of Flies' picks up right where 'Dirt' left off, musically speaking, with the ominous bass riff, wah-wah’d guitar, and harmonised vocals of “Rotten Apple” continuing into the gentle strum of “Nutshell”. However, the band stays in a groove more than it has in the past, preserving the mellow vibe and gently inserting the vocal melody rather than building to the sort of big, anthemic chorus which is its normal stock in trade. This melodic slack, as it were, is picked up by guitarist Jerry Cantrell who plays some truly gorgeous guitar licks. The ultimate culmination of this melodic sensibility is the haunting instrumental “Whale and Wasp” where Cantrell manages to evince a great deal of emotion, primarily loss and longing, with a simple feedback and reverb-drenched guitar hook over an equally simple and unassuming acoustic guitar figure.
However, the band doesn’t completely forego huge vocal lines completely on 'Jar of Flies' as shown on perhaps the two best songs here, “I Stay Away” and “No Excuses”. The former’s epic scope combines upbeat-sounding verses with vocalist Layne Staley’s dissonant, dirge-like, minor key choruses in an inversion of the band’s usual ‘formula’ before Cantrell builds the song to a soaring coda accompanied by suitably epic guitar solo and string section. While reminiscent in structure of 'Dirt's “Would”, “I Stay Away” best showcases Cantrell’s grasp of composition while combining it with Staley’s off-kilter sense of melody. In contrast, “No Excuses” is blissfully simple and is perhaps the most straightforward song on the album, but the combination of the airtight vocal harmonies, fantastic interplay between drums and bass, and immediately memorable guitar hooks makes the song a highlight.

The last two songs on the album simultaneously display the band’s playful (pun not intended) nature, as well as formidable instrumental chops, with the band interpreting country-blues, on “Don’t Follow”, and jazz, on “Swing on This”, in its own trademark style. While the former song’s stripped-down guitar-harmonica combination and the latter’s literal attempt at swing may have been embarrassing missteps for most bands, to the band’s credit it actually manages to pull it off and the songs make for quirky gems rather than throwaway jokes.

Despite the fact that Cantrell has, by this point, established himself as the brains behind the Alice in Chains operation, and the unique and brilliant contributions in the vocal department by Staley, some mention must be made of the terrific work done by AiC’s rhythm section, comprising of bassist Mike Inez and drummer Sean Kinney. The pair lay down formidable grooves on virtually every song, providing much of the impetus to Cantrell’s compositions. More so than previous albums, and definitely more so than the similar 'Sap' EP, the rhythm section gets some of the spotlight and keeps the music interesting without ever diverting attention from the melody. This is particularly evident in Kinney’s varied and tasteful drumming and Inez’s rolling bass-lines on “No Excuses” and “Swing on This”.

Lyrically too the band builds on Dirt with most of the songs dealing with depression and drug addiction, albeit covertly rather than overtly. While, thematically speaking, 'Dirt' dealt with the spiral into self-destruction, 'Jar of Flies' tempers this dismal outlook with resolve, acceptance and a return to innocence. One gets the sense that Staley and Cantrell are willing Staley to fight his demons and overcome them. Sadly this would not happen and Staley’s continued descent into debilitating drug-addiction would result in the band recording of the sub-par self-titled album, then going on hiatus and ultimately Staley’s own death ten years down the line. This cautionary tale of the fall from grace of one of the most compelling hard rock singers on the planet is more likely to be the subject of an after-school special than a biopic thanks to its unremitting gloom and tragic conclusion. Long story short: Drugs are bad, mmmkay?

However, the very same demons that eventually killed Staley also fuelled his and the band’s art. The darkness conveyed in the lyrics coupled with the haunting beauty of the music on 'Jar of Flies' makes for a compellingly poignant piece of art. 'Jar of Flies' may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but as is true of every great work of art, it does not have to be.



Recent reviews by this author
Big Wreck GhostsSolar Soma So Much For Style
Winger WingerKarnivool Asymmetry
Buckingham Nicks Buckingham NicksEtched In Red Dylate
user ratings (1681)
Chart.
4.3
superb
other reviews of this album
1 of

Comments:Add a Comment 
coneren
May 6th 2012


11111 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

5

Romulus
May 6th 2012


8443 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

yeah this is a 5

Maniac!
May 6th 2012


26250 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

5

SitarHero
May 6th 2012


4698 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

What's up with the edit review feature not working?

Maniac!
May 6th 2012


26250 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

the site is broken

SitarHero
May 6th 2012


4698 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Bummer. Has this been an issue for a while? I haven't been on here very much lately, so I have no clue.

Maniac!
May 6th 2012


26250 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

a couple months

KjSwantko
May 6th 2012


9443 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

5

Graveyard
May 6th 2012


5749 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

a 5 maybe one day

Digging: Nurse With Wound - Spiral Insana

SgtPepper
Staff Reviewer
May 6th 2012


4443 Comments


Great review. I love Alice in Chains. POS'd

NotSoFast
May 6th 2012


388 Comments


piece of shit album

Cipieron
May 6th 2012


3508 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

without Swing On This, this would be a 5

Graveyard
May 6th 2012


5749 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

if it was the first 4 tracks alone on this, then i would 5 this

KILL
May 6th 2012


71955 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

the album gets weaker towards the end agreed

Digging: Exodus - Blood In, Blood Out

SitarHero
May 6th 2012


4698 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I honestly think "Whale & Wasp" is an essential track and "Swing on This" while not essential, is the most (only) fun track on the album, and is well played despite being a bit of a gag making it worth listening to at any rate.

This only leaves "Don't Follow" and one pleasant, if unmemorable, track does not an album break.

dammets
May 6th 2012


2035 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

very much a 5. swing on this is good but its out of place as the closer

Archelaos
May 6th 2012


241 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

"Rotten Apple" is my favourite Alice in Chains song.

DominionMM1
May 6th 2012


10108 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

This only leaves "Don't Follow" and one pleasant, if unmemorable, track does not an album break.

great review, but don't follow is one of the better tracks on this.

Graveyard
May 7th 2012


5749 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

nah

macman76
May 7th 2012


373 Comments


Good band, need to listen to more of their stuff
Also, fuck you Riff



You have to be logged in to post a comment. Login | Create a Profile





FAQ // STAFF & CONTRIBUTORS // SITE FORUM // CONTACT US

Bands: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Site Copyright 2005-2014 Sputnikmusic.com
All Album Reviews Displayed With Permission of Authors | Privacy Policy