Deep Album Cuts Vol. 116: Alice In Chains

Last week, Alice In Chains released their 6th album, Rainier Fog. And that news brought about the strange realization that Alice In Chains has now released as many full-length albums without Layne Staley as they released with him, and that singer/guitarist William DuVall has been an active member of Alice In Chains for longer than Staley was. I acknowledge that Jerry Cantrell was always the band's primary songwriter and certainly has a right to continue playing his songs under his band's name if he wishes to (and the music is pretty faithful to the band's classic sound, although I think the only one that I ever wanted to listen to more than once was "Check My Brain"). But I also have the right to only care about Alice In Chains in its original Staley-fronted incarnation or include it in this playlist.

Alice In Chains deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. It Ain't Like That
2. Real Thing
3. Confusion
4. Brother
5. Right Turn
6. Dam That River
7. Rain When I Die
8. Dirt
9. God Smack
10. A Little Bitter
11. Swing On This
12. Nutshell
13. Sludge Factory
14. Shame In You
15. So Close
16. The Killer In Me
17. Died

Tracks 1, 2 and 3 from Facelift (1990)
Tracks 4 and 5 from Sap EP (1992)
Tracks 6, 7, 8 and 9 from Dirt (1992)
Track 10 from Music From The Original Motion Picture Last Action Hero (1993)
Tracks 11 and 12 from Jar Of Flies EP (1994)
Tracks 13, 14 and 15 from Alice In Chains (1995)
Track 16 from MTV Unplugged (1996)
Track 17 from Music Bank (1999)

Alice In Chains had a relatively brief run in the '90s, but practically everything they made sold like hotcakes, including 3 multi-platinum albums and two EPs, one of which also went multi-platinum. In fact, Jar Of Flies was the first EP to debut at #1 on Billboard's album chart, certainly the first EP I ever bought and probably the first time I heard the term 'EP.' It seemed kind of novel to pay a little less for a shorter but still fairly And the fact that they chased each album with an acoustic EP and then their MTV Unplugged special/album kind of made for a cool pattern in their discography, alternating the band's heaviest music with their quieter side. Sap isn't as strong as Jar Of Flies, but "Right Turn" is a great moment, with Chris Cornell and Mark Arm singing backup for a one-off 'Alice Mudgarden' supergroup.

While Alice In Chains weren't the first grunge band to get a major label contract and album (Soundgarden) and were kind of seen more as a metal band until after Nirvana and Pearl Jam cemented grunge as a mainstream buzzword, they still represented something of a breakthrough moment. Facelift was a lot more successful than Louder Than Love, was released over a year before Ten and Nevermind, and was certified gold around the time they came out. Ultimately, Alice In Chains kind of remained a cornerstone of '90s hard rock in a way that the other big Seattle bands didn't -- they have a ton of tracks in recurrent rotation on active rock stations still, and influenced a lot of big bands (including Godsmack, who were of course named after the Dirt deep cut "God Smack").

I went back and bought Facelift after becoming a fan with Dirt and Jar Of Flies, and I think it was an early experience in delving into a band's early work and being underwhelmed. I think I listened to it a couple times before abandoning it for not having more songs as good as "Man In The Box." Returning to it now, though, it holds up better than I expected, especially "It Ain't Like That." But it's funny to think now that the first Alice In Chains album ends with Layne Staley yelling "Sexual Chocolate, baby!" But I definitely think Dirt looms over the other studio albums as the band undeniably operating at the peak of their powers, and a lot of tracks on their are as good as the hits.

I was always a big fan of "What The Hell Have I," the band's single from the Last Action Hero soundtrack, so I was pleased to see that Alice In Chains had a second song on the album that's pretty good. I also wanted to include something from their 1999 box set Music Bank and came across "Died," the final song the band recorded with Layne Staley in 1998, about his girlfriend who died in '96. I find it unbearably sad to contemplate not just how young Staley was when he died at 34 in 2002 but also how much of his final years seemed to be given over completely to addiction. He played his last show with the band almost 6 years before his death and recorded "Died" almost 4 years before his death, and by all accounts he spent his final years mostly alone, wasting away to nothing. It's very easy to romanticize the tragedy of rock stars who died young, especially when it comes to the grunge bands whose gloomy music seemed to foreshadow their fates, and I'm wary of that. But it's definitely hard to listen to Alice In Chains without thinking of how Layne Staley suffered.
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