Review Summary: Beautifully atmospheric album giving you an inside view on some of Layne Staley's pains, and sorrows...
Alice In Chains; Probably the band that can garner the most feelings out of their lyrics, as you can almost feel the pain lead singer Layne Staley was experiencing. Alice In Chains released their first album "Facelift" in 1990, and recieved massive popularity over the hit single "Man In The Box". In 1991, they released the mostly acoustic follow-up "Sap" which recieved good reviews. In 1992, they released the critically acclaimed and immensely popular "Dirt" featuring some of the bands biggest singles, such as "Would"" "Them Bones" and "Angry Chair". Now Alice is back with their most beautiful work yet: Jar of Flies:
I'll be doing a track by track review of this album, some dislike this way of reviewing, but i think (especially in this albums case) you can't get the real feel of the album unless you read about each track individually.
Alice In Chains is:
Layne Staley: Vocals
Jerry Cantrell: Guitar, Backing Vocals, occasionally Lead Vocals
Mike Inez: Bass
Sean Kinney: Drums
Track 1: Rotten Apple (5/5)
Picking up right where "Dirt" left off lyrically, but taking a whole new spin musically, is album opener Rotten Apple. Starting with a dark bass riff, this song is one of Alices most depressing. The very unique thing about this song is the wah wah guitar heard throughout. Right away you notice Staley's voice is different. It may be that the heroin use was finally taking a toll on him physically, but in my opinion, his voice actually sounds better. The chorus is amazing, it has some really weird harmonies but they fit great together. The lyrics in this song are some of Staley's finest:
"What i see is unreal,
I've written my own part,
Eat at the apple so young,
I'm crawling back to start"
Very audible bass, soft drumming, and excellent lead guitar work just up this song even more.
Track 2: Nutshell (5/5)
One of Alice's most popular, although never a single for some reason. Most casual listeners will recognize this. Starts off with a very sad sounding guitar, you can almost hear the guitar crying out to you for help. after a little while the bass joins in, then the drums, and finally the vocals after about a minute. These are probably the most depressingt vocals Layne has ever wrote.
"If i can't be my own, I feel better dead"
That's just one of the very depressing lines. It's about Layne feeling all alone, with "No one to cry to, no place to call home." It's a mostly acoustic song, but after the second chorus (which the only line consists of high pitched "ooo-ing") a monster of a solo appears. Jerry does nothing to be flashy, his solo just perfectly fits the mood. And then everything fades away, which is moving because Staley at the time knew he was fading away...
Track 3: I Stay Away (5/5)
Wow, three 5 star songs in a row! A few seconds after "Nutshell" fades away and silence comes, a catchy, almost folk sounding guitar riff is played. Layne sings of how he wants "To travel south this year" and for a minute, you think it's going to be a very upbeat song! Then the chorus comes in. Oh how much i would have loved hearing the whole song sound like the first verse, but no complaints because the chorus is just CLASSIC Alice. It's probably the thing that reminds me the most of "Dirt" on this album. Dreary harmonized harsh vocals, sludgy guitar and bass, pounding drums, and then right after, back into the folk for another verse. The solo in this song is mezmorizing, and once it reaches it's head Layne belts out "I Stay Away" 4 times, and his voice, only in this particular moment, sounds like it could have come off of "Facelift" Also, after the second chorus, string instruments accompany the band, a first for them.
Track 4: No Excuses (4.5/5)
Our first song that is under a 5 on my score. don't get me wrong, i still adore this song, but it doesn't live up to its predecessors. A groovy drum beat kicks off this song, then a very simplistic, yet amazing, upbeast guitat riff starts up. This is Layne and Jerry at their best; the harmonies on this song are perfect. The drums maintain their groovy catchiness throughout the song, and the bass takes a very unique turn. Two complaints i have with this song though, one is, while the solo is great, it is much too short. My bigger complaint is that the whole song is really just verse chorus verse. A bridge would have been nice, never the less still a fantastic song.
Track 5: Whale & Wasp. (4.5/5)
Not really too much to say about this song, an instrumental that does a great job of being atmospheric. The electric guitar at the start really does sound like a Whale, so the title is fitting! The "Chorus" of this song is really the best part, it really makes you feel. Although it does sound suspiciously like "The Silent Man" By Dream Theater. The one thing that stops this song from being a 5 is the absence of Layne.
Track 6: Don't Follow (5/5)
Wow. Just wow. If there was any way i could give this song more than a 5, I would. This is probably my favourite song of all time by any band. The song that got me into the band for sure. No electrics in this song; Mostly just Jerry, Layne and... A harmonica"! Yes that's right a harmonica, and it's the best damn harmonica performance ever! fits the mood great. It's actually Jerry who sings most of this song, other than some harmonies from Layne and the bridge. Which brings me to the second section of this song, It turns into a very lively, almost gospel like song. Layne belts out the lines like no man could; the drums and bass make an appearance here, the harmonica goes crazy, and there actually is a choir of backround vocals repeating the word "Home" over and over, and just when the song reaches it's climax, it reverts back to Jerry and his lone guitar, gently singing "Say goodbye don't follow." Definately check this song out.
Track 7: Swing On This (4.5/5)
The last song on the album. I wasn't sure if i should give this song a 1 or a 4.5, the reason being it totally ruins the whole mood of the album, but it's still a great song. This album is supposed to be bleak and atmospheric, this is a jazzy type song. The bass at the start immediately reminds me of a song on my families old Sesame Street Christmas tape, (Anyone else know what i'm talking about") it's VERY jazzy. Layne has an eery voice, lots of harmony yet again, and the chorus is more classic "Dirt" The solo at the end is jaw dropping, and it's just a very fun song. Unfortunately this album is not supposed to be "Fun".
Well that's my take of this album. Perfect, with only the most minor setbacks, you won't even notice them! Overall superb vocals from Layne, Great guitar work from Jerry, Mikes bass branches out lot's, and Seans drumming always is great and fits the mood. A fantastic album that should be in everyones collection.
This is only my first review, so feedback would be very nice please!