Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden – when it came to grunge, these were the bands that got the most press. But grinding away at a slightly less popular level, Seattle’s Alice In Chains might well have been the poster child for grunge. Bleak, moody and thunderous, 28 of Alice In Chains’ biggest hits have been gathered together in the new Essential Alice In Chains collection.
Of course, whether they were “grunge” or not depends on who you ask – in liner notes to this set, Steffan Chirazi says Alice “were never simply grunge.” Yet they were of that time, and like it or not, they got lumped in with the Seattle sound. The partnership of lead guitarist/songwriter Jerry Cantrell and the distinctive voice of Layne Staley led to a fertile crop of dark, beautiful songs.
Unlike many hard-rock acts of the time, Alice In Chains weren’t afraid to be fragile – their songs swung between fierce, acidic assaults and raw, acoustic-tinged laments. Nearly all the hits are here – “Would,” the pummeling anthem from Cameron Crowe’s film Singles, “Rooster,” Cantrell’s ode to his father’s Vietnam service; “No Excuses,” “Angry Chair,” and more.
With album titles like Dirt and Jar Of Flies, you don’t expect Alice In Chains to be singing sunny ditties about flowers. Staley’s heroin addiction, which ultimately claimed his life, is a dark cloud beneath many of the band’s songs.
Essential is a solid collection perfect for novices and longtime fans alike. It’s broader in scope than the short Greatest Hits, while not quite as massive as the 1999 four-CD box set Music Bank. (For a band that only recorded three full albums and a handful of EPs, Alice has had a lot of collections already.) Essential isn’t quite perfect – the excellent track “Down In A Hole” is inexplicably missing, and there’s nothing from their plugged-in Live album.