HELL YEAH! Alice In F*cking Chains! For a good portion of the nineties, Alice In Chains was (by far) my favorite band in the world. In fact, I was borderline obsessed with Layne Staley for a while. It was the video for Them Bones (off of 1992’s Dirt album) that jarred me loose from my regrettable and forgettable early nineties “rap phase”. Having wasted a good year and a half listening to rap (like an idiot), Them Bones brought me back to the world of ROCK. (You know, REAL music!) So began my appreciation for all things Alice.
Alice In Chains had a truly incredible run from 1990 to 1994. After the promo EP/single We Die Young whetted the public’s appetite, the Facelift LP dropped in 1990. 1992 brought us the campfire melancholia of Sap, and the stone cold classic Dirt LP (one of my favorite albums of all time). In 1993, AIC contributed a pair of killer tracks to the Last Action Hero soundtrack. Then, the haunting Jar Of Flies EP arrived in 1994, much to this fanboy’s delight. Up until this point in their career, AIC could do no wrong! 1995 looked promising (at first). Staley’s Mad Season side-project released the exceptional Above LP in the spring. I eagerly awaited for the new AIC LP to ship out in late ’95. When the self-titled Alice In Chains finally arrived in my sweaty, smelly palms in November ’95, I rushed home to push play and… WAIT A SECOND… WTF? Disappointment?!? I could not believe my ears! While Jerry Cantrell certainly held up his end of the bargain on Alice In Chains, Staley’s performance was extremely weak. Ravaged by drugs, his voice was a shell of its former, powerful, self. Layered vocals and studio tricks couldn’t hide the obvious — Staley was in bad shape. The album’s three-legged dog cover signified the band was operating without one of its “legs”. You had to feel bad for the other three members of AIC (especially for band leader Cantrell), because Layne was destroying everything that Alice had built, thanks to his raging smack addiction. Try as they might to prop up Staley (the junkie), AIC was fading fast. The writing was on the wall. 1996’s MTV Unplugged special was a sad and pathetic display. Staley looked and sounded near-death. Seeing him read his own lyrics off a sheet of paper was a disgrace. What a waste! AIC, for all intents and purposes, was dead. In a brief five years, Alice In Chains had come and gone. Sad indeed.
Now on to the Facelift review…
Facelift is a little different from the rest of the AIC catalog. There aren’t any of the trademark Staley/Cantrell dual harmonies, and their aren’t any acoustic or mellower moments. Facelift is straightforward and metallic (with just a slight nod to Chains’ glam metal roots). There are lots of ominous, bludgeoning, Sabbath-ian riffs. (Jerry Cantrell has always professed his love for Black Sabbath No. 4.) Many now call Facelift AIC’s least “grungy” album — if they would call AIC grungy at all. Cantrell would expand as a songwriter by 1992’s Dirt — adding more texture to his compositions, but Facelift still worked because of the raw power of Staley’s performance. Staley’s unique voice carried Facelift to greatness, even when a few of the songs were slightly lacking. The opening track We Die Young leaps from the speakers. A tour de force. Cantrell’s drop-D riffage and Staley’s commanding vocal dirge awakened legions of listeners from their hair metal malaise. Music doesn’t get much better than We Die Young! A great song to start an album… and a legacy! Song #2, Man In The Box, is the “classic” tune from Facelift. The chorus, which begins with Layne’s cry of “FEED MY EYES!”, is probably Staley’s greatest vocal moment. He hits those difficult notes with immense power. Often imitated, never duplicated, ladies and gentleman, I give you Layne Staley in his absolute prime! Facelift continues to rock hard after the first two massive cuts. Though never quite capturing the perfection of We Die Young and Man In The Box, the remainder of the album is still very strong. Sea Of Sorrow, Sunshine, and Bleed The Freak are all great tunes.
After the dust cleared on AIC’s initial run, Facelift proved to be AIC’s most one-dimensional album, but it is a necessity nonetheless. This is Layne Staley in all his god-like glory, before his gifts were stripped away by self-abuse. An essential album! My score: A+