By Arkthemaniac 1 Comments
Hello, fellow Bombermen. I'm gonna try something new today. In case you didn't know, I love music (as most of us say we do). I love music so much that I'm paying 20,000 dollars a year to go to college to study it. It's my thing. Seeing as it's my thing, I like to try and listen to as much of it as I can. Therefore, I figure doing reviews of new CDs I buy could be fun, and could even give me a better understanding of why I like what I like.
With that said, here's my first. Alice in Chains.
Just to start, Alice in Chains is a very prestigious name in the realm of 90's rock and Grunge. While bands such as Pearl Jam took a much cleaner approach to the genre, Alice in Chains was the polar opposite. The dirtiest of Grunge, their lyrics were dismal, their riffs were sludgy and doom-ridden, and their vocal delivery was haunting. Layne Staley's harmonization with guitarist/singer Jerry Cantrell is unmatched, and Staley's voice, best described as Ozzy for a new generation, was chilling. With this lineup, they made four great studio albums, including the seminal album Dirt, which is a highlight of 90's music in general. Considering this, the new album had quite a bit to live up to, bearing the Alice in Chains name and all. So, how do I feel it stacks up?
Well, I'm not going to go through each individual song and give a complete, play-by-play breakdown. I'll just speak more generally. The big question that a lot of people wondered was whether or not the band could survive without Staley at the front, and whether or not Duvall would perform amicably. To be honest, I think Alice in Chains sounds almost just as good vocally as it did when the legendary Staley took the helm. Duvall's voice is very similar to Staleys in many ways, but closer matches the more mellow approach found on the album Jar of Flies than something more like found on Dirt or Facelift, their debut. This is completely fine, though Staley's howls are surely missed. Many people accuse Alice in Chains of resurrecting the band wrongfully without the dead singer, which I will call out as what it is: stupid bullshit. The vocal performance is great on the album.
The band, however, I have other things to say about. Don't get me wrong, guitarist Cantrell is performing admirably, as is drummer Sean Kinney. They sound about as good as they did back in the 90s. However, Cantrell seems a little more reliant on rhythm guitar under his leads than he did back then. This is fine and all, as it's a new approach, and it's not like he didn't layer tracks together back in the day. Also, wah is absent. This does upset me to a degree, since I say that no one does wah better than Cantrell. Also, he never really lets go and just shreds the fuck out of his guitar, which he can definitely do. But even so, that's not really a big problem. What I really call into question more so than any member of the band is the mix itself. While older albums featured great work from every member of the band, I can barely hear bassist Mike Inez. I know he's there, but he's totally swallowed by the rhythm guitar. This is a disappointment to me probably more so than most, considering I'm a bassist by trade, but Inez's bass lines really drive the band in ways Cantrell didn't. I cite song such as Rain When I Die, off of Dirt, and No Excuses, off of Jar of Flies, to iterate my point. Inez's basswork as a prominent element in the mix is more of a glaring difference to me than Staley's absence, to be honest.
Regarding the vocals, the mix also makes distinguishing the lyrics more difficult than necessary. Though, if what I have managed to distinguish is any cue, we're not missing much. For example, the chorus on Check My Brain, the most successful single from the album. "California, I'm fine. Somebody check my brain. California's all right. Somebody check my brain." What? What the fuck does that mean? I mean, Alice in Chains has never really been poetic, but the content of the lyrics has always been good due to their darker tone. That's just fucking stupid. It's almost a plug to try and make a more successful single by saying California. But, whatever.
Also, I can't help but feel that Cantrell is just trying too hard with some of his riffs. All of his excellent riffs have been simple in nature, but some of the riffs on Black Gives Way to Blue are just overly complex, which is a pitfall plaguing many bands nowadays. That's not to say that the album doesn't have its good and even great songs, though. A Looking In View, the albums first singe (and the albums longest song, clocking in at just over 7 minutes) is one of the albums highlights, and probably comes out as the album's best song. The opening track, All Secrets Known, is also very good. Then, there's the acoustic-driven songs Your Decision and When the Sun Rose Again, and the piano-driven title track (piano attributed to Elton John, by the way). These both help provide a break from the sludge, giving the sludgier songs more impact. I'd say the album comes closest to a bad song with the song Acid Bubble, which is too long and isn't all that memorable.
Overall, I think the album is a good new beginning for the band. It has a lot of what made them great in the first place, as well as taking things in newer directions. My biggest complaint is with the mix done by Randy Staub, who won an award for mixing Nickelback. Sure, that's fine, but stay the fuck out of my Alice in Chains. Robert Duvall is a welcome addition, and the band sounds as good as they ever did. I really look forward to what they might do for their next release, since Alice in Chains is a band that loves to take things in new directions. I say to pick it up if you're a fan. I've been satisfied with it, but not really blown away like I have been with their other works. Here's to hoping they find their groove ultimately once more and come out with something mind-blowing for their next release.