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If you lend an ear to this set, I'm sure you'll become a fan for life.

Music Review: The Essential Alice In Chains

The first time I heard Alice In Chains I thought, “Whoa, finally a band out of Seattle where you can actually understand the lyrics, and the music and melodies are fantastic.” The song I heard on the radio was "Man In The Box"; it blew me away. "I'm the man in the box/ Buried in my shit." Man, I could relate to that, and so did most of us who are labeled Generation X or whatever.

For me, the sound coming out of the Seattle in the early ‘90s was hard, raw, and passion-driven. It had to be to scrub out the ‘80s glam-pop still echoing on the radio. Alice In Chains was one of those bands that quietly exploded on to the scene as compared to Nirvana or Soundgarden, but everybody was listening. AIC blends their well-polished playing with deep passionate lyrics that reflect the pain, the frustration, and the ever-present dissatisfaction with life.

The first disc has 16 tracks that cover the albums of Facelift, Dirt, and the EP SAP. Track # 1 is "We Die Young", which has a heavy metal tone with its charging guitar and steady rock beat. “Man In The Box” follows it. Other tracks go deeper into the minds of Jerry Cantrell and Layne Staley, such as "Rain When I Die." The song starts out with an ominous vibe from Mike Starr's thumping bass riffs. Cantrell stretches and twists the notes crying out from his guitar. Both combine with Staley's voice and Sean Kinney's driving drumbeats into pain and loss. Also included on this disc are "Angry Chair," "Brother," "Dirt," and concluding with "Rooster," one of AIC's most notable songs.

Disc two contains 12 tracks from the albums of Jar of Flies, Alice In Chains, and two tracks recorded for MTV’s Unplugged. Starting out with "No Excuses", which became a radio favorite when it was released, AIC was coming into their own and their music was just getting better. Jar of Flies still sits close to my CD player and gets played at least once a month.

"I Stay Away" comes next and this song proves what Steffan Chirazi said in the liner notes about these men not just being simply musicians or artists, but they are craftsmen, who don't come up with a bunch of throwaway shit and keep what works. They nurture and develop a song, improving on it and always fine tuning it until it is perfected.  The song is a prime example of how the band blends the harmonies of bass (then being played by Mike Inez), guitar, drums, and vocals into an almost symphonic sound that resonates throughout the complete works of the band.

Although AIC has a very distinct sound, no songs sound alike due to the band’s eclectic sense for music in general. “Would?” finishes out the second disc; another signature song that even today gets radio play on the rock channels around the country. Even though they have suffered the untimely death of Staley via drug overdose, and long periods in between new recordings, AIC still has a strong following and are just recently resumed touring. This 2-CD set is an essential collection even if you just like them a little.

Written by Fumo Verde

About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS

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