alice in chains

REVIEW: Alice in Chains – MTV Unplugged (1996)

ALICE IN CHAINS – MTV Unplugged (1996 Sony)

MTV’s Unplugged series is responsible for some of the best live albums you’ll find. Certainly Kiss’ instalment is up there, and so is Alice in Chains’. It’s somewhat strange that Alice’s first live album was an acoustic performance, but they have always been a two sided band. At least in the early days, you could count on an acoustic EP between electric albums.  Their Unplugged focuses on mellow(ish) moments from everything but their debut, Facelift.

“Nutshell” from Jar of Flies is a brilliant opener.  It sets a dark, quiet tone that follows through the whole album.  For this show, Alice added guitarist Scott Olsen to free up Jerry Cantrell’s hands to solo.  The eerie quiet of the audience only adds to the tension.  “Brother” from Sap is next; a showcase for the harmonies of Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell.  Their vocal blend was Alice’s most defining feature.  The big single from Jar of Flies, “No Excuses” rounds out this trio.  Once again the harmonies kill it.  MTV Unplugged is an unforgiving format.  They had to do it live.  They could do multiple takes, but one of them has to be perfect.  “No Excuses” is perfect, and just listen to the percussion work of Sean Kinney!

A number of album tracks, better known as heavy electric songs, are next.  Right after a lil’ bit of “Enter Sandman”, Alice in Chains do the newbie “Sludge Factory” for the first time ever.  Due to Layne’s health, Alice were unable to tour in ’95-’96.  They played only five shows; Unplugged was the first.  (The other four were opening for Kiss, who also had an Unplugged album in 1996.)  “Sludge Factory” is a difficult song from a murky album.  Though was well received, “Down in a Hole” from Dirt earns more shouts of familiarity.  Layne clearly poured himself into the song.

“Angry Chair” is one of Alice in Chains’ heaviest songs; to hear it unplugged is strange but oddly appropriate.  Instead of raging, it simmers.  “Rooster” too is more peaceful, though an undercurrent of angst is always present.  It’s a song about Jerry’s dad, a Vietnam vet.  Sean Kinney’s marching band style drums give a slight military feel.  Layne absolutely wails on “Got Me Wrong” from Sap, and if you want intensity then check out “Would?”.  Even though the band hadn’t played live in ages, and despite Layne’s fragility, they were certainly as good as ever on MTV Unplugged.

A cluster of new material lies on the back end.  “Heaven Beside You” was always (largely) acoustic, but live it has a swagger.  For songs that were always challenging, “Frogs” is certainly one, and it is no less so unplugged.  It is more about the atmosphere than the notes.  “Over Now”, however, is a blast.

Alice finished the set with a new song called “Killer is Me”.  Like many of their songs it has atonal qualities that make it a difficult pill to swallow.  It has never been recorded in the studio, which makes the unplugged show that much more special.

Listening to MTV Unplugged, you can’t help but miss Layne.  A fun side of him shone that night.  “I just wanna hug you all!…but I’m not gonna,” he exclaims at the end.  It is true that the band eventually found a way to carry on with William Duvall, and they have done so very well.  But Layne…he was something special that only happens once.

4.5/5 stars

 

 

 

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REVIEW: Alice in Chains – Alice in Chains (1995)

ALICE IN CHAINS – Alice in Chains (1995 Columbia)

Alice in Chains (known colloquially as Tripod) is a difficult album.  It was difficult to make, and it’s hard to listen to.  Singer Layne Staley was in the throws of heroin addiction, but what came out of it was a portrait of everything the band went through.  It’s ugly, atonal, and occasionally brutally heavy.

Guitarist Jerry Cantrell stepped up with more lead vocals, while Layne harmonized.  Lead track “Grind” is one example of this.  Layne’s role on this song is limited but critical to the overall vibe.  His distorted snarl is integral to what amounts to an angry, lead-footed song.  “Brush Away” is more conventional, though Jerry’s droning guitar melodies keep it on the edge.  It drones on even while the riff is going its own way.  “Brush Away” is relentless but “Sludge Factory” takes it back to a slower grunge.  A song like “Sludge Factory” is a perfect definition of grunge at its best.  Who knows how the hell they came up with these ideas.  Pairing a weird “woo ooo” vocal with the heaviest of riffs and an avante-garde solo is innovative indeed.

“Heaven Beside You” is one of the easier songs to listen to, though MTV had to censor it.  “So there’s problems in your life, that’s fucked up, I’m not blind.”  Jerry sings lead on this acoustic number that sounds like a bridge between the acoustic band of Jar of Flies and the electric one of Dirt.  It has a bit of a winter chill, just like the lyrics suggest.  Don’t forget though, that Alice in Chains really like to write fucked up music.  “Head Creeps” is one of those tracks.  It sounds like an audio portrait of heroin withdrawal.  “No more time…just one more time.”  But listen to Sean Kinney just killing it on the unorthodox drum patterns.  They close the first side with an intense single called “Again”.  Once more it’s heavy, atonal and not at all commercial:  metal sludge with “doot doot” singing.

The second side is even darker.  A slow “Shame in You” is beautiful but sounds like depression embodied in sound.  “God Am”, though, is angry and bitter.  The lyrics are clever, and the riff is a beefy stutter.  “Can I be as my God am?” asks Layne in one of his most provoking songs.  “I’m not fine, fuck pretending.”  That may as well be the theme for the entire album.  They were not fine, and they were not pretending.  Despite this, musically Alice in Chains could not be touched by their contemporaries.  Only Soundgarden could have been capable of playing music of this complexity.

Writer’s block seems to come up in the storming “So Close” and “Nothing Song”.  “It’s the same old sit-down roll-around chewed-up pen,” says Layne in “So Close”.  His humorous side comes out in “Nothing Song”, with a stream of consciousness lyric that veers from autobiographical to bizarre.  It’s one of the weirdest songs on the album, and Jerry’s shrieking guitar is an absolute treat.

“Frogs” and “Over Now” end the album on a pair of slower-paced songs.  “Frogs” simmers low and slow, but “Over Now” is an another acoustic one with a brighter center.  Jerry sings what might be about as close as Alice ever got to a campfire singalong song.

When it was first issued, you could get Alice in Chains in two different coloured jewel cases.  Most were yellow with a purple spine, but the very rarest ones were purple with a yellow spine.*  Even the cassettes came in coloured cases — yellow, with a purple tape inside.  Whichever you choose, prepare yourself for an album that will stubbornly refuse to open up to you on just one or two listens.  It’s good, but not for the meek.

3.5/5 stars

* I’ve seen it, but never in good enough condition.  The case is always scuffed or broken.  Inspect before you buy.

#588: Broken Hearts are for A**holes

GETTING MORE TALE #588: Broken Hearts are for Assholes

What music do you seek out most when your soul needs soothing?

I remember my first “real” breakup in 1994.  Upset and confused, I sought solace in music.  I had just ordered a new release from Columbia House.  The Alice in Chains Jar of Flies EP hit me right where it hurt.  Why music resonates the way it does with certain feelings in specific people, nobody knows for sure.  If they did, there would be a perfect formula for writing perfect songs, but there is not.

It wasn’t the lyrics on Jar of Flies that affected me.  I didn’t consider “Hey ah na na, innocence is over, over,” to be particularly revelatory.  It was the music that got me.  While soft, Jar of Flies was also very dark and soaked with emotions.  Perhaps a lot of this had to do with new bassist Mike Inez.  Jar of Flies was one of the first things they wrote with Inez.  According to guitarist Jerry Cantrell, “He plays the nastiest, darkest shit but he’s got the sweetest heart in the world.” Both the weird darkness and the heart can be heard on Jar of Flies.  That EP stuck to me like glue.  Play it once, flip it over, play it again.

We got back together and broke up again a couple months later.  This time it was final.  I remember trying music again to feel better.  I put on “Love Song” by Tesla.  This time, this music only made me feel worse.  The line “Love will find the way,” didn’t seem real to me anymore.  So I put on something angrier.  In 1994, I was very much into Motley Crue.  I put on “Primal Scream”.  I felt the tension; I felt the frustration, and the seething.

Broke dick dog,
My head slung low,
Tail knocked in the dirt.
Time and time,
Of being told,
Trash is all I’m worth.
When I was just a young boy,
Had to take a little grief,
Now that I’m much older,
Don’t put that shit on me.

This had nothing to do with the breakup, but digging into my anger brought with it a lot of baggage from being bullied as a kid at school.  “Primal Scream” helped bring that to the fore.  It was the beginning of a long period of self-discovery and realizing that trauma as a kid can carry forward.

Breakup #3 happened in November of 1995.  Different girl this time.  I didn’t want to get angry anymore.  I decided to try to re-ground myself and get back to who I was before this.  I started hanging out with my family more.  I was listening to more old music like the Beatles.  The Anthology had just come out.  Via the Beatles (and co-worker T-Rev) I discovered Oasis (see: Getting More Tale #561: (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?).  These new bands like Oasis weren’t that much different from the old ones.

What really clicked with me this time were bands from the extensive Deep Purple family tree.  (See:  Record Store Tales Part 141: When We Rock, We Rock and When We Roll, We Roll). I was playing British bands with a blues base.  Whitesnake, Purple, Rainbow and so on.  Why these bands resonated with me during this breakup, I don’t know.  Maybe it was the male posturing and testosterone.  Whatever the reason was, for a little while Deep Purple and Whitesnake really helped me put the pain out of mind.  I felt more or less normal and I think the tunes had a lot to do with it.  This kicked off a huge Purple obsession with me.

It’s strange but every breakup had its own music.  There was a girl named Jasmine in the year 2000, and the music for her breakup was Marillion.  “So here I am once more, in the playground of the broken hearts.”  Both Fish (first singer) and Steve Hogarth (second singer) are real poets.  With Marillion, both the music and lyrics seemed to fit.  I was becoming a little bit of a broken-hearted douche bag, but I had to do what I had to do to get by.

Perhaps what I really needed was some Frank Zappa.

 

Some of you might not agree,
‘Cause you probably likes a lot of misery,
But think a while and you will see…
Broken hearts are for assholes,
Broken hearts are for assholes.

#371: The Birth of Grunge

NIRVANA

RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#371: The Birth of Grunge

1991.

The pendulum of rock music was swinging back to heavy. The world had tired of Poison, Warrant, and even the once mighty David Lee Roth. His latest album (A Lil’ Ain’t Enough) had tanked and the tour poorly attended. On the other hand, Metallica were transforming from the little thrash band that could into a worldwide juggernaut. Change was in the air, but what we didn’t expect were the dark clouds blowing in from Seattle.

I had been aware of a few newer bands. Soundgarden for example had some airplay with “Loud Love”, but I wasn’t impressed. There was another new group called Temple of the Dog that had a music video with two singers. “What’s up with this new band, Temple of the Dog?” I asked my highschool friends. They shrugged. “Haven’t heard of ‘em.”  Highschool ended and I began a new adventure at Wilfrid Laurier University, majoring in History. And that’s when I saw “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Because the schism of grunge and metal had yet to occur, it was played on the Pepsi Power Hour, where Temple of the Dog had also debuted. I had even read a Nirvana concert review in an early issue of M.E.A.T Magazine, but they weren’t really on my radar. I thought the singer had a great voice even though his ratty old sweater was pretty lame. I thought he kind of looked like a dirty Sting. The singer’s voice and the drummer’s chops were the best part of this band that otherwise didn’t click for me.

Some other singles and videos trickled onto the airwaves: “Jesus Christ Pose”, “Alive”, and more. It all happened so quickly. In a matter of months, a new crop of darker, detuned bands had replaced the likes of Van Halen on the charts. These new bands didn’t concentrate on an image, which in itself became their image. Shaggy beards, unkept hair, shorter do’s – these new rock bands didn’t look much like the old. Even their onstage personas were different. Where bands used to try to entertain and give bang for the buck, these new ones seemed to take a page out of shoegazer bands’ books. Layne Stayley from Alice in Chains was noted for standing still in one place on stage much of the time. Pearl Jam replaced lights and flashbombs with jams and crowd surfing. Worst of all to me was the disrespect this new crop had for the old, just like in the punk days of old. Krist Novoselic of Nirvana said on television that he hated heavy metal because it all sounded like with was spat out of a computer. The fact that heavy metal fans were buying his albums by the hundreds of thousands didn’t seem to click with him. Mudhoney were talking about beating up Sebastian Bach. It was getting crazy and a huge split happened within heavy rock music.

It was hard to keep up with the rapid changes. What was in a few months ago was deader than dead. What never would have had a chance of charting in 1990 was now #1. Artists that once looked cool suddenly looked ridiculous. But most importantly, the fun was disappearing from rock and roll. It was no longer enough to sing about cars or girls. Now you had to have something from your soul to confess, or a social issue to address. It was a lot less fun to sing, “Even flow, thoughts arrive like butterflies, oh he don’t know so he chases them away,” than it was to sing, “I got it bad, got it bad, got it bad, I’m hot for teacher.”

I resisted the change. I owned no grunge albums until late ’92, when I was finally drawn in by the song “Would” by Alice in Chains. The Dirt album took some getting used to, but it was at least built upon metal riffs. Pearl Jam and Nirvana remained all but incomprehensible to me. A couple years later, Soundgarden managed to suck me in with “Spoonman”. I had to admit that these bands had a lot of talented players: guys like Matt Cameron and Jerry Cantrell were earning mainstream respect among musicians. As these bands grew in popularity, I would always advise kids to keep an eye on the rearview mirror. “Yeah, Soundgarden are great. But have you ever heard original Black Sabbath? They were the original Soundgarden.” I didn’t want the roots (and my roots!) to be forgotten.

Grunge and I had an uneasy relationship for a few years, but soon it no longer mattered. Other types of music were coming to the forefront now, even more heinous and evil: pop punk, boy bands, and the post-grunge onslaught. I slowly grew to enjoy Pearl Jam and some Nirvana. I even own a Stone Temple Pilots CD or two. But my heart will always remain with the music that grunge nearly destroyed forever – hard rock!

Hard rock went into a sort of hibernation for a while, but it could never be killed.  Not even by something as all-consuming as grunge was.  Today, hard rock is back in business again.

The Four Horsemen: “Back in Business Again”

You never met a man like me
You wouldn’t understand
I’m in the rock’n’roll business honey
I’m in a rock’n’roll band
And we were headed for the top babe
Way back in ’91
Some record business scumbags took it from us
Well they forgot my gun
Well now we’re back in business folks
I’ve come to claim what’s mine
See we’re the Four fucking Horsemen
Back for a second time

I’m a fast talkin’, woman lovin’, whiskey drinkin’, good for nothin’ rock n roll star
In a hell raisin’, trouble lovin’, whiskey drinkin’, mother f***in’ rock n roll band
I make my dirty little fortune
In this rock n roll band
We’re here to entertain you
We’re back in business again
Hahahaha

Moron after moron at the meet and greet
They’d do just about anything for a front row seat
When you see me on the stage one thing you’ll understand
It’s what I do, it’s what I am, I’m just a rock n roll man
And you don’t hear me whining about my fame and fortune

I’m a hell raisin’, trouble lovin’, fast talkin’, good for nothin’ rock n roll star
In a trail blazin’, skin lovin’, whiskey drinkin’, mother f***in’ rock n roll band
I make my dirty little fortune
In this rock n roll band
We’re here to rock n roll you
We’re back in business again

Now pay attention
I got a little story here to tell ya
It kinda goes like this
You know I had a couple years off there babe
To kinda take some time
And I heard a bunch of whining, little wussy rock n rollers
Complaining about how fame and fortune’s got them down
I say we gather up all these little bastards
Shove them back to their lil’ nowhere town
See I was born on this stage
And I plan to stick around!

REVIEW: Ozzy Osbourne – Under Cover (2005 Japanese import)

Purchased this year at the Toronto Musical Collectibles Record & CD Sale.

OZZY OSBOURNE – Under Cover (2005 Japanese CD/DVD set)

I want to know who thought this album was a good idea to release.  Sure, we know Ozzy will do pretty much anything.  He even appeared on a tribute album to Black Sabbath (Nativity In Black Vol. 2).  So why not have Ozzy cover a bunch of songs that, by and large, the world didn’t need him to cover?

“SHARON!”

I’ve never thought much of this album, and I think you can gather why on the first track “Rocky Mountain Way” (Joe Walsh).  Why did this song need to be redone, metalized, and howled upon by Ozzy Osbourne?  It’s awful.  The female backing vocals are totally out of place, the changes made to song are unnecessary, and the vocal is stale.  The only positive thing I will say is that Jerry Cantrell (Alice in Chains) plays on Under Cover, and he’s the only thing redeeming it.  His slide and talk box solos on “Rocky Mountain Way” are swampy and great.

Whether Ozzy covers the Beatles (a pukey echo-drenched “In My Life) or Cream (“Sunshine of Your Love”) or the Stones (“Sympathy for the Devil”), nothing of value is added to the song.  It’s assembly line rock.  There are no innovations or interesting slants.  “Sunshine of Your Love” is altered to resemble Sabbath’s “N.I.B.” which doesn’t help matters at all.  Ozzy even does two solo John Lennon songs (“Woman” and “Working Class Hero”).  I get that Ozzy has a connection to the lyrics to “Working Class Hero” and is a huge fan of Lennon.  That doesn’t mean he should try doing his own version.  Most songs don’t benefit from being metalized.  I’ve even heard a good metalized cover of “21st Century Schizoid Man” better than Ozzy’s.

Best tune (only good tune):  “Fire” originally by the Crazy World of Arthur Brown.

OZZY UNDER COVER_0003Special guests: Leslie West plays some smokin’ axe on the cover of his own “Mississippi Queen”.  Ian Hunter joins Ozzy on “All the Young Dudes” but doesn’t do much other than shout along.  Others such as Gregg Bissonnette (David Lee Roth) and Joe Bonamassa are credited on the album, with no indication of what they did on which tracks.  Maybe Bissonnette was hired solely to play cowbell.  Who knows?

The final rip off to fans is that almost all of Under Cover was previously released on Ozzy’s Prince of Darkness box set earlier that year!  Many Ozzy fans such as myself picked that one up for its numerous long-sought rarities.    When Under Cover was released as its own album, four new recordings were added to make you buy it again: “Rocky Mountain Way”, “Sunshine of Your Love”, “Woman”, and “Go Now”. If you have Prince of Darkness, then you already own over 75% of Under Cover.

The Japanese bonus track was daughter Kelly Osbourne’s cover of Black Sabbath’s ballad “Changes”, with dear old dad singing with her, and lyrics adapted to suit.  If you were one of those (I hope not) who bought Kelly’s 2002 album Shut Up, then you already have this.  But like most Ozzy fans, I already have this song on the Prince of Darkness set.  This version also comes with a bonus  region 2 DVD: the music video for “In My Life” (whoop-de-do) and a long (about 45 minutes I think) feature called “Dinner with Ozzy and Friends”.  You might recognize a couple of these friends.  Road stories are shared, the funniest ones involving Ozzy being mistaken for Meat Loaf, and Lemmy for Willie Nelson.  And there’s the infamous story of Zakk Wylde and a cork.  Finally, the two sided DVD also has the entire album in “enhanced stereo”.

1/5 stars

Sausagefest XII: The Complete Countdown!

There were some pretty awesome picks this year.  I have to give Scottie props for “Coming Home” by Iron Maiden, from the excellent Final Frontier album.  I found some things a bit surprising, such as the overplayed-on-radio “Black Betty” by Ram Jam, placing so high.

“Thick As A Brick” was the live version, so just over 10 minutes.  Other long bombers included all of “Supper’s Ready” by Genesis, which resulted in a tirade by Phil for just as long, about how much he thinks it sucks!  (And he’s an old-school Marillion fan…surprising.)  And of course there were several Maiden tunes that clock in well over 5 minutes.

For your edification, here is the official Sausagefest XII Countdown:  75 tracks, plus 35 tributes.  One tribute for each person that submitted a list!  110 songs over one weekend!  Awesome.

1 Toronto Tontos Max Webster
2 Long Cool Woman in a Red Dress The Hollies
3 The Grudge Tool
4 Rooster Alice in Chains
5 Supper’s Ready Genesis
6 Papa Was a Rolling Stone The Temptations
7 Mississippi Queen Mountain
8 Black Betty Ram Jam
9 Locomotive Breath Jethro Tull
10 I’m Your Captain Grand Funk Railroad
11 Wasted Years Iron Maiden
12 Low Hanging Fruit Tenacious D
13 Green Eyed Lady Sugarloaf
14 Hey Joe Jimi Hendrix
15 Headlong Flight Rush
16 Roadhouse Blues The Doors
17 Thick as a Brick Jethro Tull
18 Powerslave Iron Maiden
19 Bohemian Rhapsody Queen
20 Trapped Under Ice Metallica
21 Nautical Disaster Tragically Hip
22 No Quarter Led Zeppelin
23 Mr. Blue Sky Electric Light Orchestra
24 The Wizard Black Sabbath
25 Mama Told Me Not To Come Three Dog Night
26 Blackened Metallica
27 Jungle Boogie Kool and the Gang
28 Telegraph Road Dire Straits
29 Sanitarium Metallica
30 Renegade Styx
31 Eulogy of the Damned Orange Goblin
32 Throw Down the Sword Wishbone Ash
33 Electric Worry Clutch
34 The Alabama Song The Doors
35 Rise of the Fenix Tenacious D
36 Livin Thing Electric Light Orchestra
37 The Shape I’m In The Band
38 Mother Danzig
39 The Chain Fleetwood Mac
40 No One Knows Queens of the Stone Age
41 Die Young Black Sabbath
42 Bang Bang Terry Reid
43 Caught Somewhere in Time Iron Maiden
44 Buried Alive Avenged Sevenfold
45 Dream Police Cheap Trick
46 Would Alice in Chains
47 Don’t Fear the Reaper Blue Oyster Cult
48 Zero the Hero Black Sabbath
49 Pool of Booze Volbeat
50 Parabola Tool
51 Why Cant We Be Friends? War
52 Rock and Roll Led Zeppelin
53 While My Guitar Gently Weeps The Beatles
54 Breadfan Budgie
55 Strutter KISS
56 Holy Wars Megadeth
57 Old Man Neil Young
58 Southern Man Neil Young
59 The Pusher Steppenwolf
60 Tempus Fugit Yes
61 Fight Fire With Fire Metallica
62 Kielbasa Tenacious D
63 Green Onions Booker T and the MG’s
64 Weird Beard Fu Manchu
65 Tonight’s the Night Neil Young
66 BYOB System of a Down
67 The Zoo Scorpions
68 As the Years Go By Mashmakhan
69 Toxicity System of a Down
70 Deuce KISS
71 Space Truckin’ Deep Purple
72 South of Heaven Slayer
73 Rocky Mountain Way Joe Walsh
74 Roadie Tenacious D
75 Rock and Roll Motorhead
TRIBUTES
TOM Earache My Eye Cheech and Chong
ERIC Rosanna Toto
BUCKY A Day in the Life WAR
LAMB LORD The Wizard Uriah Heep
LEBRAIN Well You Needn`t Herbie Hancock Quartet
TROY Caught Up in You .38 Special
ERNIE Apocrophon The Sword
SCOTTIE Coming Home Iron Maiden
RYAN Still Counting VolBeat
SEB Demiurge Meshuggah
PHIL Under Black Flags We March Arch Enemy
CHUCK New Fang Them Crooked Vultures
TYLER G. Come on in my Kitchen Robert Johnson
C Time After Time Savage Steel
CHAD She`s a Rainbow The Rolling Stones
DR DAVE Ogre Battle Queen
LOGAN Cowboys From Hell Pantera
GRANT Around the World Red Hot Chili Peppers
WAYNE Inside Looking Out Grand Funk Railroad
CAM Red Hot Mama Funkadelic
AARON High Caliber Consecrator Clutch
JOHN B. I Stay Away Alice in Chains
TAL Dear God XTC
LAMB LAD Kick Out the Jams MC5
ALEX Chicken Strut The Meters
TREVER Volare Dean Martin
FRANK Whiskey in the Jar Metallica
JAGGER Frozen Love Buckingham/Nicks
MARK E. Are You Mine? The Arctic Monkeys
JON K. Stone Deaf Forever Motorhead/Metallica
TYLER W. We Are All on Drugs Weezer
MARK S. People are Strange The Doors
JUSTIN Monsters Blue Oyster Cult
MIKE Monarchy of Roses Red Hot Chili Peppers

The official video

REVIEW: Alice In Chains – Jar of Flies / Sap (Double EP)

Click if you missed my review of the new Alice in Chains album, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here!

ALICE IN CHAINS – Jar of Flies / Sap (1994 double Columbia EP edition, originally 1992 and 1994)

For a little while, Alice In Chains were in the habit of releasing an EP before each studio album (We Die Young preceded the Facelift album albeit it was a promo). This ended after Layne’s death, but these two EPs — 1992’s Sap and 1994’s Jar of Flies — represent some of the best work of this pioneering band. Acoustic in nature, these two recordings are crucial to rock fans who need to know more about one of the most interesting bands of the 1990’s.

I snagged a European import of this set many years ago, for less than the price of either of the two EP’s separately.  Great score, and it was in great condition.  It even contains all the artwork from the original releases.  Although Jar of Flies is the first disc in the set, I will review Sap first since that’s how they came out.

JAR OF SAP_0004Sap is very low key. I remember reading an interview in RIP Magazine with drummer Sean Kinney.  He stated that they were writing songs for the next album (Dirt), but all this acoustic music started pouring out instead.  He had a dream about it one night, and told the band, “Guys, we have to release these songs as an EP, and we have to call it Sap.”

The opening track, “Brother” is sung by Jerry Cantrell with Ann Wilson of Heart on the choruses. Very powerful understated song. Both “Brother” and the next song, “Got Me Wrong” (another standout) were released live on the band’s Unplugged CD. These songs are followed by “Right Turn” by Alice Mudgarden: essentially Alice In Chains with Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Mark Arm of Mudhoney on guest vocals! It is a great contrast: Cornell screaming at the top of his lungs, and Arm down low. Great song.  I remember Jerry Cantrell once said that Mark Arm’s vocal on it “scares the shit” out of him every time he hears it.

Layne Staley’s “Am I Inside” follows, another understated and mellow slow-burner. Everything goes to hell though with the final track, the unlisted “Love Song”. The band switched instruments for this chaotic joke song, with Sean Kinney on megaphone/vocals. Hilarious track, but it must have taken people by surprise.  “Rae Dawn Chong…Rae Dawn Chong…”

JAR OF SAP_0003Jar of Flies was written and recorded rather spontaneously in just a week. When I first heard it, I felt like some of these songs were under-written, that they could have used more work. As you listen to it more, that feeling disappears.  It feels more complete. Just about every song on Flies is a total winner, but the best thing about it is that it grows on you. As a result, it has a longevity that similar EPs sometimes lack. Here I am, still playing it 19 years later and loving it just as much.

“Rotten Apple”, which is one of the best tunes anyway, kicks off the CD.  It’s hypnotic, even though the lyrics really feel unfinished.  Who knows what Layne was trying to express at the time, perhaps it’s with intent. It just feels like the fragment of a lyric. Perhaps that’s what makes it so hypnotic to me.  None of this changes the fact that this slow one is both warm and forboding at the same time; a cool thing.

The opener is followed by “Nutshell”, which I like even better.  It’s my personal favourite tune on Jar of Flies. It always takes me right back to summer 1994.  The single “I Stay Away” features strings to emphasize the powerful chorus.  It’s a cool tune because it has sections that sound like they don’t go together, yet they make it work.  Alice seem to ignore songwriting convention most on songs like “I Stay Away”.

“No Excuses” was another single (the first one, actually).  It’s an almost-happy sounding song with some sweet rolling basslines from Mike Inez. The instrumental “Whale and Wasp” is up next, so named because Jerry felt it sounded like whales and wasps talking to each other. That should put you in the ballpark.  Jerry wrote it when he was in highschool, finally recording it on Jar of Flies.

“Don’t Follow” is probably the least experimental of the songs. It is a straight acoustic ballad with some nice harmonica.  After five tracks  of music that doesn’t always follow the beaten path, “Don’t Follow” feels like a reprieve.  The final song is the pretty wild “Swing On This”.  It’s the only song that tends to lose me, but some people I knew held it as their favourite. From the most conventional song to the least conventional; such is a journey on planet Alice.

Commenting specifically on the version I own, the dual EP, I bought this at my own store used several years after initially owning both releases.  My logic at the time was that T-Rev and I were usually always trying to own the “coolest” or “most complete” or “rarest” version of things.  When I traded up the two separate EPs, I broke even, plus I made space for one for more disc on my shelves!!  Space is always a rare commodity to a collector.

Together, these two EPs together create a fantastic listening experience. The cool thing is that although both are acoustic, they are really nothing alike. Listen and you will see.

5/5 stars

Part 208: Flashback 1995

RECORD STORE TALES Part 208:  Flashback 1995

November/December 1995 was freakin’ busy.  We sold a lot of discs that Christmas.  What we didn’t do was listen to a lot of discs!  No; our boss really, really liked Don Henley and TLC.  He played them ad-nauseum.  Like on repeat three times in a row.  I’m not kidding about that.  I distinctly remember the repeat.  Here are the Top Three Discs I Had to Listen to Until My Ears Bled, December 1995.

3. Boney M – Christmas Album

2. Don Henley – Actual Miles

1. TLC – CrazySexyCool

Trevor on the other hand was introducing me to Oasis and managed to get a few cool discs into rotation:

3. The Beatles – Anthology Vol. 1 (usually just disc 2)

2. Foo Fighters – Foo Fighters 

1. Oasis – (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?

We were also working with this new guy, Donnie, and we let him pick Dance Mix ’95 a few times.  Unfortunately, the Big Shiny Tunes series hadn’t begun yet.

I didn’t get to pick as many discs as the others — the boss didn’t like my picks.  When I did, I chose the new Def Leppard – Vault (Greatest Hits 1980-1995).

Looking back, there were also a few albums that I found utterly disappointing that season.  They included:

3. AC/DC – Ballbreaker

2. Lenny Kravitz – Circus

1. Savatage – Dead Winter Dead

All three were albums that I was solidly looking forward to, but largely disappointed me.  I never did buy Circus.  I own the other two, but only because I’m a completest (and I got AC/DC for $3).

Finally there were three albums that really got me through that season.  I had just been dumped by my first serious girlfriend and I was really angry about it.  Away from work (my boss didn’t want these ones played in the store) these three albums totally spoke to me that Christmas:

3. Alice in Chains – Alice in Chains

2. Ozzy Osbourne – Ozzmosis

1. Iron Maiden – The X Factor

Let me tell you something people:  I still fuckin’ hate TLC.  I’ll never go chasin’ waterfalls, ever again.

Next time on Record Store Tales…

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

Part 170: Jonathan

RECORD STORE TALES Part 170:  Jonathan

I’ve worked with a lot of accountants over the years.  I like accountants.  I seem to get along with accountants, don’t know why.  The coolest accountant I ever worked with was Jonathan.  I like to describe Jonathan’s appearance as being a dead ringer for the actor Romany Malco:

Jonathan always made me laugh.  Check out this journal entry:

Date: 2004/06/17
14:09

It was really amusing walking into the office today, and seeing Jonathan singing “Lick It Up” by Kiss.

Very un-accountant like behaviour!

Jonathan was good people.  He took a pay cut to work with us, because he wanted to do something he was passionate about.  He taught all us knuckle-draggers on the store floors about cash flow vs. profit.  He helped us out a lot on the financial side, and he was smart.  Plus he loved music.

One time when my mom came into the store to visit, I introduced her to Jon.  He said to my mom, “You brought up a good son, Mrs. Ladano.”

I used to drive Jonathan home from work once or twice a week, and it was always good to talk to him.  He used to give me advice every time.  He encouraged me to better myself.  He used to call me “Lifer”.  He said, “You’re never going to get out of here.  You’re going to work here forever.”  But he did it to rile me up, to get me looking for work elsewhere, because he knew the CD store was a dead end for me.  He had respect for me, when he called me “Lifer” he meant it to motivate me.

I’d talk to him about girls I liked.  There was this girl that worked at the Money Mart next door, but I was too shy to walk in and talk to her.  So Jonathan did it for me!  Witness these journal entries:

Date: 2004/05/21,  10:08

The one girl at the Money Mart next door is really cute, and I see her out there all the time having a smoke. When Jonathan goes out to have a smoke, he talks to her, give her a light, whatever.  I mentioned to Jonathan that I thought the one girl was real cute yesterday.  Then today, I TOTALLY got busted staring at her through the window!  THEN Jonathan went out to chat it up with her, right after I got busted, to tell her all about me, ask her if she wants to go out on a date with me…Jesus Christ!

Date: 2004/05/22,  09:52

  • Cheap Trick – Authorized Greatest Hits
  • Alice In Chains – Jar of Flies
  • KISS tribute – Kiss My Ass
  • The Goo Goo Dolls – Gutterflower
  • Rush – Vapor Trails

Nice thing about working the day alone with no bosses around is that you can listen to whatever the hell you want!

I don’t think Money Mart Girl, who I learned from Jonathan is named Jessica, is working today. So I couldn’t say hi to her even if I worked up the guts!

In the end, Jonathan had to split.  He had three kids and being an accountant for a CD store wasn’t going to cut it anymore.  He took an offer he could not refuse, and bid us farewell.

I’ll always remember good times working with Jonathan, a true character, and the guy who got me thinking about my future.

 

Ignored Albums of the 1990’s: I liked ’em them…LeBrain’s List Part 6

Thanks for checking out my 88 underrated albums from the 1990’s that I believe deserved a second look.  There were a few albums that, had I written that series of articles in the 1990’s, would have made the list.  Today, they just don’t cut it.

Here’s a selection of albums that I felt were under-appreciated at that time.   Today, these very rarely get any play in my house.  The shine obviously wore off the apple.

Once again, this is alphabetical.

BIG WRECK – In Loving Memory Of…  (T-Rev teased me about it…it’s half decent, but only half)
BUSH – The Science of Things (good song: “The Chemicals Between Us”)
JERRY CANTRELL – Boggy Depot (Alice In Lite Chains)
CINDERELLA – Still Climbing (Never even upgraded to CD from cassette)
ALICE COOPER – A Fistful of Alice (Dunno…never play this anymore!  Good song: “Is Anyone Home?”)
EDWIN – Another Spin Around The Sun (Good song:  “Alive”. The rest? Suckiness.)
GEEZER – Black Science (only decent, certainly not great)
IOMMI – Iommi (too modern sounding, has some great tracks, but not enough)
MEGADETH – Cryptic Writings (T-Rev and I were into this big time! I can’t play it anymore)
METHODS OF MAYHEM – Methods of Mayhem (I fucking bought this one!)

MR. BIG – Hey Man (“Take Cover” is a good song…the rest I can barely remember)
ALDO NOVA – Blood On The Bricks (I’ll review this at a later date, just doesn’t cut it anymore)
NUNO (Bettencourt) – Schizophonic (One customer will never forgive me for recommending this)
SCORPIONS – Pure Instinct (pure lite-rock)
TWO – Voyeurs (sorry Rob, this just wasn’t a good idea)
STEVE VAI – Fire Garden (perhaps it’s just too dense for me)
VAN HALEN – 3 (no comment…)
VARGA – Prototype (I was trying to get into industrial metal. I grew out of it!)
VICTOR – Victor (Bought because it was Alex Lifeson, therefore my civic duty)