Tag Archives: Alice in Chains

Album of week 17: ALICE IN CHAINS

aic aic

There are things I don’t understand, like for instance discovering 10 minutes ago that I hadn’t written yet about the self-titled album of Alice In Chains. Isn’t it silly knowing how much I love this band?

The only explanation I can find for such a terrible mistake is that every time I listen to this wonderful masterpiece, I think of my first pressing vinyl I bought  for just £1 in Edinburgh in 1998 in hands of certain asshole who took it away from me in a moment of confusion and never gave it back. Eventually I will get another copy on vinyl but this shit still gets me angry.

Anyway, FUCK HIM.

In 1995 I was a bit disappointed with the band after the release of the ep Jar of Flies, which I told you, I found very soft when it came out, but now I’m in love with, so when I heard that a new album was coming I decided not to buy it immediately waiting for comments about it. But Christmas time came, and Diana’s mum, Carmen, asked me what I wanted as a present, so I thought it was a good chance to listen to the new album, Alice In Chains, without taking many risks.

You must understand I was 19, always short of money (similar to nowadays but with no responsibilities nor bills, hahaha), thus purchasing a CD meant an investment and a sacrifice, because even though album releases were as expensive as nowadays, our buying power was lower. Thus you had to choose wisely.

The tripod dog album came to my life in Xmas, 1995-1996, and I remember the first time I played it at my studio room at my yaya’s, for I had started living with her full time a couple of years earlier. How evocative! Now that I remember, it was one of these winter dark evenings. I was sitting in the armchair, covered with a wool blanket, with subtle light, handling the booklet with all those sick yet fascinating illustrations, not very convinced about what was gonna happen.

5 seconds of ‘Grind’ and I already knew Alice In Chains was gonna blow my mind. And it did, believe me. Personally speaking, I reckon is the perfect combination of the darkest side of Dirt with the sweet & sour beauty of Jar of Flies. Not being perhaps as hard and insane as its predecessor, truth is that riffs are heavier and more doom metal like, as in ‘Grind’, ‘Sludge Factory’ or ‘God AM’, and on the other hand, the melodic side of the album is more highlighted, with a great work on vocals, and Jerry Cantrell’s role on vocals was more important, leading in ‘Heaven Beside You’ and ‘It’s Over Now’.

Again, songs were the portrait of Cantrell’s struggle with drugs, not being capable to overcome his addiction to heroin, which, at this point, was killing him. Lyrics were related to drugs, isolation and frustration. And death. Apparently the recording was tough issue, with Staley being fucked up most of time or absent, due to heroin. Not that the rest of the band were saints, but the stage Layne was at that time was way beyond his band mates, who constantly frustrated for not being able to help him. Really sad.

alice in chains band

From this point, the self-destruction spiral Staley went through was dragging him down and down. The band never toured to support this album, and one year after they recorded the acoustic unplugged show for MTV, with Layne, so pale and static, everybody knew his days were numbered and the end was getting close for him. But that’s another story.

If I had to choose between Dirt and Alice In Chains it’d take me long time to decide, because both are some great, and are so connected to my mood, that my decision changes every time I listen to any of them . Like heroin, I got hooked to both in an obsessive way. The struggling tone of both, leaving the musical part aside, was what we had in common. When you are a teenager, there’s a part of yourself which is constantly struggling to find its place in the world, and even though there were many good things around, I still had to fight for self-assertiveness.

This was the third and the last studio album of Alice In Chains as I like to think of them, with Layne alive. The art of creating greatness from something totally rotten it’s a skill not everybody can afford, however Alice In Chains masterly sculpted beauty from filth.

I love them.

 

ALBUM (EP) OF WEEK 4: JAR OF FLIES

I might sound a bit repetitive but sometimes my musical mood is unconsciously related to some kind of event or anniversary. I’m into Alice In Chains a lot lately, also recovering the old albums and EPs, some side projects such as Mad Season and Cantrell’s solo albums.

jar of flies

Yesterday it was the 20th anniversary of the release of Jar of Flies, the wonderful ep which followed their most popular album, Dirt. I remember it perfectly. To be honest my expectations were too high, as i had just discovered them thanks to Dirt, and my mind was still boiling in shock, thus reckon I was looking for an extension of the album, but this was completely  different and I felt quite disappointed. I’m stupid sometimes and I used to be even more back in the day, and more ignorant. I wanted something more metal, angry and aggressive, but Jar of Flies is a beautiful album, with deep lyrics and very introspective and depressive. I remember talking to a friend on the phone at my granny’s kitchen (how many hours I used to spend hooked on it!), telling him Alice In Chains had lost the vibe and that they would never recover the power of Dirt. Aaaah, how wrong I was!

When reading about the making of this EP, you realize it was never intended to be released on first place. It was a way to express frustration and depression after being worldwide touring with Dirt for some time and facing a rough comeback home, in the most classic way musicians do: Spending some time at the studio for the sake of making music together. But you know how these things go, and someone at the record label heard the acoustic versions of these songs and convinced the band to go on with the project. Perhaps that’s the reason why I, and many other fans, weren’t ready for a change in style, proving Alice In Chains could experiment with milder sounds and styles.

Nowadays my view of Jar of Flies has changed completely. It features several of my favorite songs of the band, ‘Nutshell’, ‘I Stay Away’ or ‘No Excuses’, and it’s the perfect vehicle to move from sick Dirt to dark Alice In Chains, both frightening, intense and heartbreaking. A smooth and brilliant transition.

On the other hand, it was released 20 years ago, I was 17 and was in my last year at high school. Music had become the most important thing in my life and guess I was finishing being a kid to become an adult, very immature and crazy, but more responsible and focused. I’m 37 now and I still keep features from that time, and music is still the most important thing in my life, I’m older, more responsible and focused, but sometimes a complete mess. Celebrating one of these anniversaries, again, confirms the passing of time again, and thinking I’ll be 38 sounds scary and fucked up at first, but I’m unable to compare myself to my old ones, because my lifestyle is very different, and my mental age reminds too young, and seeing friends and people around me, fortunately 38 doesn’t mean to be old anymore, so I prefer taking it easy.

I only hope I manage to celebrate another 20 years of Jar Of Flies.

ALBUM OF WEEK 3: DIRT

2:40am and I’m listening to ‘Rooster’. I’ve just realized I’ve barely written about one of my favorite bands, Alice in Chains, nor Dirt, one of my top 10 albums ever. It’s intolerable, yet at the same understandable. How come? Apparently this justification is contradictory, but after giving it some thought I came to the conclusion that I have to be in a certain mood to enjoy listening to this album.

alice in chains

Dirt is not easy, and I’m not talking about the music. Dirt has something not many records have, and it has to do with the essence, the attitude, and its insanity.

It was fall 1993, when I was first introduced to it. I had heard of the band, knew few singles, but hadn’t dug into their stuff yet, mainly because I couldn’t afford buying a CD as I do now, and second because I didn’t know anyone who liked them and could encourage me to give Dirt a try. Until he turn up, and described it as one of the most overwhelming albums ever recorded under the most terrifying influence of hard drugs. Impossible to resist the temptation I had to listen to such threat for my ears and my innocent mind. Drugs were a taboo and something really out of my scope, so in some way this was kind of bait. As soon as I gathered some dough I went straight to the record store and got y copy, which is still with me.

I remember the first time I listened to Dirt at my grandmother’s (I was living with her already), in my study room. I was sitting on the armchair motionless, doing nothing but getting pervaded with those guitars, those stunning melodies of Staley and Cantrell, and that dose of pain and anguish so present in every second of the album. It was a devastating experience. too much intensity I wasn’t used to. After that I called my friend to tell him I had listened to it, and when he asked me about how I was feeling, I confessed I was scared.

Think about it. Song titles such as ‘Junkhead’, ‘God Smack’, ‘Sickman’, ‘Rain When I Die’ were completely opposed to the will to live of a teenager. I was in shock.

It took me few days to put myself together, musically speaking, and play Dirt again. Those following  hearings finally got me hooked, as the finest heroine or any super addictive drug would do, and since then (classic) Alice In Chains and I have been together.

As I’ve said before, I have to be in a special mood to listen to this album. I’m in that mood lately, exhausted, frustrated, stressed  and mentally blocked. Dirt is like a fix, not exactly  of happiness, just the opposite, but for some weird reason it works as a pain killer and helps to feel relief.

ALBUM OF WEEK 9: FACELIFT

Every time Alice in Chains are mentioned inevitably everybody thinks of Dirt, the album which drove them to a more mainstream commercial success, and in my case, my first crush on the band, in first place.

Alice In Chains is in my top 5 all time favorite bands ever (Layne Staley era, please). I’m not sure whether I told you I got acquainted with them thanks to a very convincing recommendation coming from a special friend, who described Dirt as an overwhelming experience, an album written and recorded under the influence of the most threatening drugs. I was 17 and he was 26. Needless to say I was fascinated by that definition. And of course, this guy was absolutely right. Dirt is awesome.

I’d have trouble deciding which album is my favorite, because depending on my personal circumstances I change my mind a lot. I think of the self titled album, with the tripod legged dog as my favorite, but then I fall in love with Jar of Flies, when I’m depressed or angry I’m in need of Dirt or the Unplugged so…I don’t know.

If you observe, I haven’t mentioned their debut album, Facelift, because it took me some time to get used to it on one hand, and because I want to focus on it right now, as I’ve been listening to it intensely lately, to balance and give a break to my current addiction to Clutch.

facelift

I find Facelift a particularly underrated album. Most bands have their tops, no doubt about it, but if you dig into AIC’s history, theirs was a pretty fast ascending career, and not only the talent of the combo formed by Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell had to do with it, but also the support of MTV by adding Man in a Box to their regular programming was key to their success. In barely 2 years, AIC were on tour supporting Van Halen, Iggy Pop, Anthrax, Megadeth

This album is not one I think of in first place, but when I pull the CD out of the shelf and start playing it, I always have the same feeling. It is a masterpiece. And not only because of Man in a Box, which is super powerful and catchy, but also because Sea Of Sorrow, We Die Young, Bleak the Freak or It Ain’t Like That…Their sound is more metal, with riffs more present than in later albums.

And then, there’s Love Hate Love to be highlighted separately due to its perfection and intensity. Really, Staley’s desperate yelling in anger is insane, Staley’s guitar solo is killer, always getting me goose bumps. There’s a very dark and twisted song, suffocating and heart-rending. Must admit at certain point in my life I felt close to the idea this song transmits: anger after being cheated. You know, a case of “I love you but I’d kill you right now, you’ve ruined my life and I’m frustrated because there’s nothing I can do” kind of thing.

aic

Winter is hard to endure when bad weather is kicking, and the soundtrack chosen usually reflects my state of mind. Powerful moments followed by depressing stages. Facelift suit perfect. Fortunately Spring is about to arrive, and even though is quite unstable, the warming sun is healing, and Clutch are ruling my world now.

Have a great week!

SINGLES, THE PORTRAIT OF A GENERATION

I’ve heard this morning that the 20th anniversary of the release of Cameron Crowe’s film Singles had been early this week. Unbelievable! This is the kind of things which make me realize I’m not a youngster anymore, and at the same time, the awareness of this fact also invades me with nostalgic memories.

I don’t know how much you’re familiarized with this film, catching a moment of emotional mess  in the lives of a group of six friends in their 20s, living in Seattle. It is basically a cakey compilation of love stories, with one of these generational stunning casts, including Matt Dillon, Bridget Fonda, Campbell Scott, Bill Pullman and Eric Stolz. And the added value of guest appearances which had to do with the current local heroes at that time.

To be honest, not only the plot is quite simple but also the movie is not big deal. It’s nice and entertaining but it’s not overwhelming. However the great achievement by Crowe was to portrait a generation of American youth in that time, affected by a wave of pessimism caused by the Persian Gulf War, which in a way awoke the ghosts from Vietnam.  And more accurately, he approached the grunge movement in Seattle, the epicenter.

 It took quite a long time to release the film in order to find the most suitable marketing strategy. The big bosses were confused about the bait to attract the audience. Love? Seattle? The voice of a generation? Grunge? Singles eventually saw the light in September the 18th 1992. Here in Spain things took even longer time and the film was released the year after in August, worse timing ever as most Spanish people are away on holidays, so it just lasted one week in cinemas and Singles was unnoticed.

Cameron Crowe has a taste for romantic and mild stories, but also, and this is what makes his movies worth watching from my own point of view, the director is a music lover, and the soundtracks are essential in his films. They are awesome.

What happened to the Americans with Singles and its soundtrack, was the same which occurred here. Officially the soundtrack of the film was released about 2-3 months before the film was released. It included songs from the hottest bands in Seattle: Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Smashing Pumpkins and Screaming Trees. The first ones released two songs for the film, Breath, and my personal favorite, State of Love and Trust. Chris Cornell also recorded the wonderful Seasons, and the presence of Nancy and Anne Wilson (Heart) as The Lovemongers was also remarkable. This soundtrack was a compilation of the current Seattle scene of the time, and it was the final push to consolidate grunge and turning it into mainstream.

As commented before, Singles was released in Spain in summer 1993 which was a complete disaster. All of my gang, approx 20 boys and girls, were on holidays, and never heard of Singles in town. It took more than half a year to be re-released for just one week again and it was in English with subtitles, something unbelievable in that time, which made the whole experience even more exciting so we could hear “their” voices for real.

Therefore, in early Spring 1994, a gang of 20 went to Eliseos movie theater in our coolest outfits to watch Singles. You can imagine, wool hats, plaid t-shirts, Doc Martens, XL tees with our bands there… it was like attending a live concert. By then we had learnt the soundtrack by heart, thus when we were hearing Nearly Lost You or Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns subtly, we were all singing low. And we were out of control when Eddie Vedder (I was in love with him for many years) and Chris Cornell were appearing. I think we really didn’t pay so much attention to the film because when it was over we thought it was one of the best movies ever, and we were hugging each other as if congratulating for sharing the experience. I kept the film advertisement on the local newspaper for ages. We were 17. We were a bunch of teenagers, genuinely innocent and easily affected, crazy about our most recent discovery and passion: rock, and Singles was the peak of it. And we all were trying to start our bands hahahah

Few years later the gang was missing members day by day, and everybody grew up and moved on.  Most of them are into music, but we’ve separated paths and our tastes are different. We are spread in the world, some are married, some have kids, guys cut their hair, girls left their Martens in their wardrobes… Still in touch with some of them, but in the distance.  Probably I’m closer to what I was back then than the rest of my friends, and it’s funny, because I wasn’t the coolest, nor the toughest, not the most badass in the gang. The truth is that I’m still devoted to rock and music, even more committed than I was as a teenager.

Anyway, at the end of the day what Singles really means to me is the tangible summary of the most intense period in my life, when I started being myself, growing up, taking decisions, getting acquainted with many things, experiences… Singles is the witness of my lifetime choice. Positive, one of the best times in my life.

(*) Johanssen, Vane and Lorenza, hope you read this. I love you!

ONE OF THOSE SAD DAYS WE REMEMBER…

April the 5th a sad day for music in general and rock in particular. Many sad events have occurred on such date.

Last news is that Jim Marshall has just passed away, at his home in Milton Keynes. Sure his last name sounds familiar, as he was the responsible for Marshall amplification, and the popular and established brand. The most curious remark related to the Father of Loud, was that he focused on his research of guitar amplification in order to find a way that guitar sounded over his drums. And Hell if he did! His contribution to rock is priceless, and his loss is a sad one for everyone in bizz and rock fans in general.

18 years ago Kurt Cobain shot himself to death in Seattle. It took 3 days to find his dead body and a suicide note at his home in by an electrician.

I remember the day we heard the news, it was Saturday, so we celebrated our particular homage at the pub we used to hang out every weekend, Devizio. Never so many Nirvana songs were played that evening, and never did we headband nor dance so enraged. Although I’ve never been a diehard fan of the band, and didn’t particularly like Cobain much, his death was shocking. On the first anniversary of his death, a tribute mini festival was celebrated in Zaragoza, and my band The Brain Farmers, was invited to participate. We covered Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle, and played our own tune dedicated to the singer named Asking Cobain. We played for approx 400 people, and the audience seemed quite enthusiastic. Really, it was a blast. The band was terrible.

Investigations concluded his act was just suicide, and I never believed Courtney Love was involved in his death as part of a conspiration as it’s sometimes been questioned, yet I can’t help wondering whether he had to end like this or it was a fatal mistake. Cobain seemed to be demanding attention all the time… I don’t know.

Although I was really impressed by Cobain’s death, I felt absolutely shocked and devastated 8 years after, when the sad news of Layne Staley’s death caused by overdose, hit me. To add more drama, the detail of the body dead for two weeks till it was found by someone was the proof that the lead singer of Alice in Chains’ was more isolated than suspected.

We all knew Staley was fucked up, and despite  the rumors talking about the struggle to rehab, heroin was too powerful and influential over him, in all senses and for many years. You just have to pay attention to Dirt lyrics to understand what drugs meant to the band, and especially to the singer.

The amazing unplugged performance for MTV, confirming the decrepit and weak condition of the singer, breaking a very long inactive period, made all the fans to lose hope, and start having the strong feeling that Layne was not to last too long.

No matter you have negative thoughts of future. When those become real, you still feel like shit. We knew something bad was going to happen, yet when terrible news was spread, an infinite sadness invaded many of our hearts. It was a terrible loss.

I might sound to dramatic here, but let me make a point here, there’s no day I don’t have a thought related to Alice in Chains, and consequently to Staley.

This has been the song I’ve thought of, when I’ve been reminded of this sad 10th anniversary. It’s more Cantrell’s but I find it full of meaning.