Mandy Grant

REVIEW: Alice In Chains – The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here (2013)

ALICE IN CHAINS – The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here (2013 Capitol Records)

You know how in offices they have those phones with the little speaker in them, that plays the local radio station?  That’s how I first heard “Hollow” by Alice in Chains.  Not the greatest way to hear it.  I couldn’t hear the harmonies or the bass guitar.  The song came off as a dull drone and I didn’t like it. However Mandy Grant on 107.5 Dave FM said the album was lined up to be her album of the summer.  Then Tricky Nick gave it 5/5 and praised its genius!

Now it’s my turn to throw my hat in the ring.  I had no problem with Black Gives Way to Blue; yes it’s a sad album and we know why.  If anything I found some of the songs to be not memorable.  On the other hand, I found some of the softer material to be among Chains’ best.  Here, William DuVall does a great job.  I don’t get the sense that he’s trying to sound a certain way, but when he sings with Jerry it’s Alice in Chains.

CHAINS 3Onto The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here.  Love the title, love the artwork, love the packaging, but we’ll get to that in a few moments.  It’s an album that reveals more and more as you listen to it.  It’s really well produced for one.  Sonically, this is the best album Alice in Chains have ever made.  But musically, it peels like an onion:  brief guitar interludes, dual guitar harmonies, bass hooks, vocal flare, all of this stuff and more comes through when you spend some time with it.

I think I’d like to invent a new genre here and declare this record to be “Progressive Grunge Rock”.  It has elements of both, which really isn’t too much of a leap as Chains have always comprised some great musicians.  Mike Inez was one of my favourite bass players from his Ozzy days, and Sean Kinney is very creative with his symbol work and weird time signatures.  Only 2 of the 12 songs are under 5 minutes; the album clocks in well over an hour.  Unbelievably, it doesn’t drag.  This is accomplished with a combination of well written memorable hooks, and a variety of song styles.  Some moments recall mellow things like Jar of Flies, others the “Dog” album.  There’s also a lot of riffing and soloing that is pure traditional heavy metal.

Many reviewers have mentioned that this album seems a lot brighter than Black Give Way to Blue and I’m in agreement with that.  Keep in mind this is Alice in Chains and they’re not turning in a sunny-happy-joy-joy album at any time.  There is however a certain jubilant quality to this album that is quite infectious.

I keep waffling between favourite songs.  All of these are contenders:

  • “Stone”
  • “Voices”
  • “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here”
  • “Breath On a Window”
  • “Scalpel”
  • “Phantom Limb”
  • “Choke”

There aren’t any weak songs, but for me those 7 are all really exceptional.  I really love “Phanton Limb”.  It’s one of the most “metal” in some respects but it’s also one of the most unique.  Its riff is just mechanically punishing.  “Voices” is like Jar of Flies meets Cheap Trick or something.

The packaging is really cool but fragile.  Mine arrived with a slight crack on it.  It’s a coloured red jewel case, but with a function.  Remember how G1 Transformers used to come with those “Tech Spec Decoders”?  You had to use this red plastic “decoder” to read the stats on the robot’s packaging.  You could still sorta read it without the decoder, but Alice in Chains took it a step further.  You can only read the lyrics by inserting the appropriate page into the jewel case.  There are big red XXXXX‘s over most of the words making them very difficult to read.  When you put the page under the jewel case, it’s easy!

Having lived with the album for a week now, I concur with Mandy:  I think the love will grow, and this will be one of my albums for the summer, too.  The most important thing about The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here is that it sounds like Alice in Chains.  There is nobody else out there that sounds like this.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: ZZ Top – La Futura (Best Buy edition, 2 bonus tracks)

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ZZ TOP – La Futura (2012 Best Buy edition, 2 bonus tracks, American Recordings)

Unfortunately I didn’t get this album until January of 2013.  As such, it didn’t make my Top Five of 2012 list.  If I had got it sooner, would it have made the list?  Probably.  It did make lots of lists.  It made Every Record’s top 10 of 2012, and regular LeBrain reader Deke’s list for example.

I love this album.  I’ve played it every day since I got it!  From mournful ZZ blues (“Over You”) to skunky funky ZZ blues (“I Gotsta Get Paid”) to trademark anthemic ZZ rock (“Flyin’ High”), this album has pretty much everything I love from ZZ Top!

I first heard the single, the aforementioned “I Gotsta Get Paid” (a rewrite of a rap song called “25 Lighters” by somebody named DJ DMD) on the Mandy Grant Show, on 107.5 Dave FM.  I fell for it immediately, but I was wary of buying the album at first.  After all, most ZZ discs since Eliminator and even Afterburner didn’t do too much for me, even though they all have tunes worth putting on a road tape.  Maybe the difference is that, on La Futura, ZZ Top are working with Rick Rubin?  Or maybe it’s that they haven’t recorded a studio album in almost a decade?  I don’t know, except to say that ZZ Top absolutely nail it on La Futura.

The overall sound is both slick and dirty at once, a balance that they haven’t always hit in the past.  Frank Beard’s drums sound absolutely perfect, the way you want a real drum kit to sound, no goofy samples here!  Of course, the Reverend Billy F. Gibbons’ guitars are always greasy goodness, and full of dirty soul.  What sets this album apart is a rediscovered ability to write memorable, catchy blues rock songs.  “I Don’t Wanna Lose, Lose, You” is a perfect example of the kind of rock tune that ZZ Top are known for, groovy and instantly memorable.  “Chartreuse” and “Consumption” are the same, just awesomely great Top tunes as memorable as some of their best from the days of yore.  “It’s Too Easy Mañana” is a perfectly bluesy mess of guitars, bass and drums, while “Big Shiny Nine” is another trademark upbeat Top rocker.

My favourite song, that I keep coming back to, and can’t get out of my head, is “Flyin’ High”.  It’s just an awesome song, melodic as hell, and worthy of single status.  That’s my pick for second single right there.  What a riff, what a song!  Back in ’83, this would have been a smash hit.

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I shelled out for the US Best Buy edition, which has two bonus tracks.  Shipping and taxes all-in, I paid $35 for “Threshold of a Breakdown” and “Drive By Lover”.  Both are great tunes, but it’s especially worth having “Drive By Lover” because it’s the only song on which bassist Dusty Hill takes the lead vocal.  I’ve always been a fan of bands that have two lead singers, and I’ve always liked Dusty’s voice.

My only beef is the packaging.  What you see is what you get:  A simple cardboard case, no booklet.  You get liner notes but no lyrics or anything else particularly special for buying a physical edition.  Too bad.

4.5/5 stars

Note:  The first four tracks were previous released on the iTunes only Texicali EP.  But if you prefer physical product, like I do, this is a no-brainer way to go!