For a band who managed to create some of the greatest music of the past two decades with only three studio albums and two EPs, it makes sense that every piece of fluff would be latched unto by the fans. And this album is a prime case of that. When it was recorded, Alice in Chains were at an all time low in their personal situation, although certainly not a musical one. Although they'd released another compelling album to huge critical and commercial success, Layne Staley was slowly spiraling into complete heroine addiction, and the band hadn't launched a tour since their watershed album Dirt
. Despite all this, their epydamous third album still showed excellent songwriting built around Staley's tortured vocals and Jerry Cantrell's effect laden guitar. And the sound of the band was still as two faced as ever, with one facet being the fist pumping hard rock, dominated by metallic riffing and crushing rhythm, while the other being the mournful dirge ballads. Despite this, the band made only a single live appearance supporting that album, and it was for MTV's Unplugged sessions, and would mark the second time that this MTV series provided the final recording before the death of a Grunge leader.
So its with all these factors weighing in that one finally approaches Alice in Chain's Unplugged, and its hard not to wonder just how they approach bringing their songs into an acoustic format. What results is a very mixed bag. On one hand, some of the songs sound genuinely great without electronics, while others just simply lack the punch. This is no fault of the players themselves, who are all in top shape. Staley's overaught (and extremely underrated) vocals are as good as they ever were, Jerry Cantrell translates his parts to the acoustic guitar fairly well and harmonizes perfectly with Staley, Mike Inez's bass is sharp and deep, and Saun Kinney's drumming, while never flashy, is certainly solid, and The band is also joined by stand in guitarist Scott Olsen. No its just that some of the songs really need electric guitar and bass backing them, especially when Cantrell's effects heavy parts come into play.
, for example. What would otherwise be a great performance, and nice calm opener, just doesn't feel the same without its jagged outro solo. Rooster
just skids along, never reaching its famed crescendos and sorely lacking Cantrell's downtuded licks, and Angry Chair
honestly just doesn't sound right acoustic. But thats not to say that the album isn't without its highs, either. Brother
sounds fantastic acoustic, as does the recent hit Heaven Beside You
, both of which sound like the band should've recorded them acoustic in the first place. And best of all, the final track Killer is Me
is only found on this disk, and is nothing short of a great song.
So what keeps this album from being an essential buy? Its just the fact that two many of the songs just fall into the 'meh' category. No Excuses
, Sludge Factory
, Over Now
or their massive hit Would
certainly don't sound bad, its just that there's no real reason to listen to the acoustic versions over the originals. And the novelty factor of hearing these songs done acoustic wares off very quickly. But for hardcore Alice in Chain's followers, this is definitely recommended. Not only because it was the last thing Layne recorded before his tragic death, but also since Alice in Chains have such a small catalogue, any material is welcome.