“Grind” said it all: “You’d be well advised not to plan my funeral before the body dies.” Is there a more fitting mission statement for Alice in Chains, a band left for dead at least twice now in the past decade? Just as Jerry Cantrell and company shocked everyone with the decision to release a second post-reunion album, they were slaughtered for the decision to reunite in the first place.
And then they hit us with Black Gives Way to Blue
, a fantastic album that had the admitted benefit of literally no one thinking it was going to be any good. But BGWTB
(holy abbreviation) had a mission statement that was dictated not entirely by the band, but by its context. We needed a song to start with “Hope, a new beginning”, a song that allowed new vocalist William DuVall to show off his chops, a song that addressed Cantrell’s new living situation, and most importantly, a song that addressed late vocalist Layne Staley. They nailed all that with flying colors.
That, I think, is what allows The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here
to be so good. There’s nothing that Alice in Chains has
to do here--hell, they didn’t even need to make another album as far as I’m concerned. But they did, and they’re free to take shots at whatever they like now without fear of intense critical and fan backlash. The album’s title track, undoubtedly its centerpiece, would have stuck out like a sore thumb on Black Gives Way to Blue
, but it’s one of the best songs the band has written, a wry criticism of extremism delivered as only Cantrell could. What’s more, there’s no clear radio single here--“Hollow” and “Stone” aren’t great songs, but they pull no punches for commercial appeal. Even “Voices”, as close to a “Your Decision”-type ballad as the album gets, floats dangerously close to the six-minute mark.
And yeah, sometimes it’s tough not to think about how the title track’s ominous chorus would have sounded with Staley’s eerie vocals layered in. But “Phantom Limb” stands in perfect counterpoint to that, a seven-plus minute behemoth that only DuVall could have pulled off. “Phantom Limb” replaces “A Looking In View”, which replaced “Man in the Box”, as the heaviest thing this band’s done. See the progression here?
There should be more than a single paragraph dedicated to the post-naughties efforts of Cantrell and DuVall. The former has dispelled any doubt that he is, and always has been, the band’s lifeblood with his work on the past two albums. The latter has turned in another impressive vocal performance, effectively stepping out of Staley’s shadow and creating a legacy with the band of his own. This is no longer Alice in Chains with William DuVall; William DuVall is Alice in Chains.
The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here
isn’t a home run like its predecessor--there are a fair number of clunkers here and it relies a bit too heavily on its (admittedly fantastic) standout tracks. But here’s the thing: Alice in Chains are somehow, 26 years down the line with a new vocalist and significantly less hair, still progressing. That’s remarkable. This very well may be the band’s worst album, but it’s still damn good.