Sunday, January 25, 2009

January 25: Alice In Chains, "Dirt"

Artist: Alice In Chains
Album: Dirt
Year: 1992
Label: Columbia

Though he is often overlooked due to his appearance and the overall sound of the band, one cannot deny Layne Staley’s place as one of the finest vocalists in history. Try as they might, NOBODY can even come close to the raw honesty, combined with sheer power that Layne was able to achieve. There are countless times across the AIC catalog where it truly seems that Layne is singing from the “other side.” However, with 1992's Dirt, the band was able to achieve musical perfection and the album has become a cornerstone of grunge and hardcore music.

The opening seconds of Dirt leave no time for the listener to prepare. A trio of “Them Bones,” “Dam That River,” and “Rain When I Die” beat you into grunge-metal submission. Driving rhythm guitars, overlain by Jerry Cantrell’s signature solos provide the perfect wall for Layne to stand against. The bassline on “Rain When I Die” personifies the “scary, yet somehow friendly” vibe that AIC achieved throughout their career. The lyrics are deep, painful, and heartfelt as well as absolutely unrelentingly honest.

Obviously, the album is best known for its SECOND single, “Rooster” (“Would?” was, in fact, the first single off the album). The tale of a Vietnam solider would have fit perfectly into the score of Apocalypse Now. Since most people are quite familiar with the song, I will only say that a different (better) version can be found on the Music Bank box set. The tail end of the album closes with the tandem of “Angry Chair” and the aforementioned “Would?” Again, simple yet brilliant basslines drive the songs and Layne tears through song after song, bring the listener along through the failings of an addict.

There are no “bright points” on Dirt. It is a dark and depressing journey through the mind of a man knowing he was badly losing a battle with drugs. However, the music is a perfect fusion of heavy metal and grunge; a recipe that countless bands have since attempted to copy (see Korn, Papa Roach, or any of that sort of garbage). The production on the record brings a very clean sound, and yet the songs remain as gritty as the music demands.

Alice In Chains were, by far, one of the most important acts to come out of the 90's grunge movement. They were around before Nirvana and have been cited by that band as a major influence on their sound. Tragically, Layne Staley's demons got the better of him in early 2002, thus ending the life of the band as well. One must listen and understand how lucky we all are to have these remnants of a truly amazing musical talent.

Standout tracks: "Rain When I Die," "Angry Chair," and "Would?"

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