66. Alice in Chains, Alice in Chains
In the early to middle part of the nineteen-nineties, a band was almost guaranteed some national attention as long as they were from Seattle and knew how to turn their amps up. Alice in Chains officially formed in 1987, when roommates Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell joined one another’s new bands. The funk band Staley drew Cantrell into fading quickly, leaving the other group, defined by hard rock leanings, as the going concern. For the band’s name, they opted for a modified version of the group Staley was in previously, a glam metal outfit called Alice N’ Chains.
The band’s timing couldn’t have been much better. Between their debut, Facelift, and their sophomore effort, Dirt, Nirvana’s Nevermind arrived, not just opening the door for their fellow Seattle guitar-slingers but smashing the barrier into little pieces. Further aided by the soundtrack to Cameron Crowe’s Singles, which made the tacit argument that all bands from the city were equally fair game for hungry listeners, Alice in Chains became huge in a hurry. By now, Dirt has been certified quadruple-platinum. Success hardly guaranteed a smooth path forward, however. Besides the usual array of band squabbles, Staley had a heavy-duty drug problem with a particular proclivity for heroin. That led to canceled tours and enough general frustration among his bandmates that they were potentially prepared to start figuring out a path forward without him by 1995.
The album that became Alice in Chains began as Cantrell’s first noodling stab at a solo project. He eventually brought in Alice in Chains bassist Mike Inez and drummer Sean Kinney to help him work through the material. With three-quarters of the band already together, it felt only natural to invite Staley into the process. Staley implied it would have felt like a betrayal otherwise. The resulting album isn’t a remarkable achievement, but it does offer just enough evidence as to how Alice in Chains were different from their Seattle sound contemporaries. While “Brush Away” and a couple other tracks have the deliberate plod of grunge, most of Alice in Chains is infused with a more rattling and rattled brand of hard rock, with threads of pummeling heavy metal through it. That doesn’t uniformly translate to strong music (“Head Creeps” has a generic hard rock progression and dopily distorted vocals), but there are usually enough different dynamics to make sure there’s something at least a little interesting going on. If “God Am” has horribly trite lyrics — “Dear God, how have you been then?/ I’m not fine, fuck pretending” followed later by “This God of mine relaxes/ World dies, I still pay taxes” — it also has a underlying squeak and squall that almost distracts enough from the words.
Staley’s troubles built up his celebrity, making him the band member that drew the most focus (that goes with being the lead singer, too). Alice in Chains makes the argument that the band’s vital creative energy belongs to Cantrell. The record’s origins as a potential Cantrell solo effort show up all over the place, notably in the little detail that three of the four singles released from it feature the guitarist on lead vocals with Staley simply offering harmonies. There are deep textures to much of the music that suggest creative leadership from the guy whose main job is coaxing his guitar to make abrasive, majestic, enticing noises. “Sludge Factory” is fairly simple and direct until it gives way to an ending with a guitar line that seems to be dueling with itself. Then there’s “Heaven Beside You,” built on bluesy, acoustic tones with electric guitar parts periodically insinuating themselves like a eddies of storm clouds.
This is the final Alice in Chains studio album featuring Staley. The drug abuse simply didn’t stop and the situation became untenable. Staley appeared on the band’s Unplugged album, released the following year, and then went into an extended spiral, occasionally committing himself, however briefly, to making more music. He died in April 2002. Eventually, Cantrell revived the band, recruiting William DuVall as new lead singer. They’ve released two albums under the lineup.
The members of Silverchair were still teenagers when they entered a contest called Pick Me in their home country of Australia, sending in a demo of a song called “Tomorrow.” They won, getting the chance to rerecord the song and make a video, which eventually led to a record contract and their debut release, Frogstomp. “Tomorrow” became a major hit in the United States, topping both Billboard‘s Mainstream Rock and Modern Rock charts and even spending some time in the Hot 100, peaking at #28. They’re considered more of a one-hit wonder in the U.S., but they remained hugely successful back home in Australia, even holding the distinction of have the most nominations and wins at the ARIA Music Awards, the country’s rough equivalent of the Grammys. They’ve won twenty-one of those things. Silverchair announced an “indefinite hibernation” beginning in 2011.
— An Introduction
— 90-88: The Falling Wallendas, Parasite, and A.M.
— 87-85: North Avenue Wake Up Call, Live!, and Life Begins at 40 Million
— 84 and 83: Wholesale Meats and Fishes and Orange
— 82-80: (What’s the Story) Morning Glory, Fossil, and Electric Rock Music
— 79-77: Coast to Coast Motel, My Wild Life, and Life Model
— 76-74: Gag Me with a Spoon, Where I Wanna Be, and Ruby Vroom
— 73 and 72: Horsebreaker Star and Wild-Eyed and Ignorant
— 71 and 70: 500 Pounds and Jagged Little Pill
— 69-67: Whirligig, The Basketball Diaries, and On