Review Summary: In 1996 Alice In Chains releases their self-titled album. The album's nickname, Tripod, foreshadow the fate of the band, and its contents become Staley's parting gift.
Alice In Chains are a band characterized by resilience, darkness, and despair. However their unyielding approach is somewhat contained on their self-titled release, resulting in a much more mellow sound. The explosiveness that resided in Layne Staley's voice did not show up on Alice In Chains
. All is not lost though, there is something gained. A dark hopeless emotion is injected into the band and their evolution becomes a trial of dying. In a way this is what Alice In Chains were always about, facing death. All that aside, Staley's voice is still the same voice and with it the impressive range. Jerry Cantrell also becomes more involved in the song creation, which is a plus.
The opening track, "Grind", is a testament of the band's survival. At the time of this release, public speculation was drawn to the status of the band. In response, Cantrell advises,"Not to plan my funeral, 'fore the body dies". Cantrell's lead guitar throughout the the track are really what give this song it's edge. The chorus itself is one of Alice's best. The joint vocals from Staley and Cantrell are a warm welcome to Alice In Chains
. For those of you who have listened to their earlier material, you'll notice the voice effects added in the verses are a new feature for the band. Depending on the listener this could be irritating or simply unnecessary. "Head Creeps" follows a similar formula, featuring a banging pre-chorus/chorus riff and implemented vocal effects in the verses. The drum work is also not bad. Despite all this, the song drags on a bit. The last minute feels pointless and the verses are overfilled with bothering vocals effects.
"Again" is one of Alice In Chains' simplest moments. Having no intro, pre-chorus, solo, or outro, the song structure is nothing fancy. The guitar work is also fairly basic. The simple approach was an effective one though. From the screaming chorus, to the tempo of the verses, Staley's vocals on "Again" are reminiscent of those on "Would". Because of that, its easy to see how this track instantly became a fan favorite upon it's release.
The bluesy-metal combination found on "Shame In You" is depressingly attractive. With melting guitar leads and guilt-ridden lyrics "Shame In You" aims straight for the gut. Cantrell is alive throughout the whole track, adding a powerful intro into the first chorus. Contrasting Cantrell, it is on this track where Staley is least explosive. But this is by design, through this, his vocals become disheartened. This helps lyrics like, "Concentrating on dying" and "Yeah, I believe in inner peace, yeah" capture the mood well. Its also fair to say that the drums on this track fit in nicely. "Shame In You" really is one of Alice In Chains more brilliant tracks.
Opening with a hit is probably the number one reason I bought this album, "God Am". This track wins the sweetest riff award. Cantrell lets loose with haunting chorus leads and the verse riff you'd expect to hear upon entering the gates of hell. Staley is talking to God though, and his dark lyrics are essentially his prayer to the big man. He asks, "Can I be as my God am?". He also pokes fun at Christianity with the lines, "Invite you in my heart, then. When done my sins forgiven? This God of mine relaxes. World dies I still pay taxes." As satiric as "God Am" is, it's also heart-felt, which makes for an interesting song.
The following two tracks, "So Close" and "Nothing Song" are this album's throw away tracks. On neither track does Staley or Cantrell bring the goods. Meanwhile, time-giants like "Sludge Factory" and "Frogs" are best reserved for those who are well versed in this band's music as it's hard to defend listening to the last half of either track. The musicianship is there though. With the lyrics and clean guitar solos of "Sludge Factory", and Layne's verses on "Frogs", there are reasons for these to be personal favorites for some.
Nowhere did Cantrell display his influence on this album more so than on "Heaven Beside You", "Over Now", and "Grind". Each track represents one of this album's singles and are wrote and sung by Cantrell. "Heaven Beside You" is the gem of the three. The acoustic track is somewhat reminiscent of track on Alice In Chains' EP album Jar of Flies
. With a catchy chorus and relaxed verses, this track for many is the essential track on Alice In Chains
and an easy favorite for any new listener.
This album is what began to prove that Layne Staley wasn't the be all end all for Alice In Chains. Jerry Cantrell continued to show that he can lead this band and create great songs just as Layne can. Together though, they were able to put out some of the best rock of the 1990's. All in all, this album will always be considered a peg below Dirt
. It is hard to say otherwise, just as its hard to believe the the new line-up will ever reach that height. But this album is still a solid one, and is worth giving a listen to for any rock listener.