|By Charlie Goodrich||Tuesday, 24 Apr 2007|
Dark, heavy, and distorted. All the elements that made Alice In Chains so great resonate from their 1995 self-titled album, simply dubbed Alice in Chains. While the energy from Dirt is not found on this album, the creativity is complete. There are no fast paced “throw your balls against a wall” rock songs. The tracks on this album approach rock from a different angle. The main theme of this album is Staley’s drug addiction. The album sounds like a swan song written by men who thought the end was near. This would be Alice in Chains’ last studio album and the last time singer Layne Staley would grace the microphone for the the band, aside from the Unplugged session in 1996 and a few songs recorded for the box set in 1999. It is eerie how appropriate this album is to what would happen to Alice In Chains, especially Layne. But it offers listeners some of the best rock from the 1990s.
“Grind” kicks off the album in a haunting way. Written from the view of a rotting corpse, this song oozes ambiance. The guitar of Cantrell echoes in such a way that it creates an image of an unearthed shallow grave and inside the grave is a cold body, decomposing and twisted. Layne’s voice meshes with Cantrell’s guitar perfectly to create the full effect of death.
The two ballads, “Heaven Besides You” and “Shame In You” are well done and make this album a little more diverse. “Heaven Beside You” was the big hit from this album. It beings as an upbeat track, but two minutes into the song things take turn for the dark side. Returning to the dark allows this song to fit well on the album. “Shame In You” reminds me of a Pink Floyd ballad. The arrangement of the song and the instrumentals have that progressive early ‘70s feel to them. The only difference is Staley’s vocals.
Clocking in at a little over eight minutes is the song “Frogs”. Somehow this song is creepier than Grind. It offers up image after image of pain, wasted youth, death, agony, and regret. Written by Staley, it plays out like his personal obituary written a few years before he died. He had a heroin addiction that he would later die from, and this song spans his life from the time of his childhood to his unfortunate present state of being. It is incredibly depressing hearing his own voice sing these lyrics. It is one of the most powerful songs I have ever heard.
Following in the same tone is “Sludge Factory”. It talks about the problems addicts have and the consequences that they face. Staley sings about the contradictions addicts have, saying they don’t have a problem until it is too late, but, at the same time, they will profess how messed up they are. The song breaks down at the end with Staley speaking softly under Cantrell’s riffs. Like this voice is repeating these words in his mind. Reminding Staley that all hope is lost and he will succumb to heroin. The song concludes with Cantrell scratching at the stings of his guitar creating a metaphor for the dying of the brain and gradual stopping of the heart.
It is unfortunate that most people think of the Dirt album when they think Alice in Chains. While that is a great album, this self-titled, “three legged dog” album often goes underappreciated. Showing a dog missing a leg on the cover relates very well to this band. Soon they would be missing a member of their band like the dog is missing one of its limbs. The tone and foreshadowing is frightening and makes this a powerful combination. While the album has a few forgettable songs (“God Am”, “So Close” are not as strong as some of the other aformentioned songs), this album is still a great and worthwhile listen.