As part of my lead in for my top 10 favorite albums I touched upon the omissions and surprises. I was particularly surpised that three of my favorite artists didn’t have an album I included as one of my top 10 favorites. Right behind that though, was my selection for number 10.
Alice in Chains was one of the top bands of the early 90’s. Their debut Facelift was a stand-out amongst the similar sounding bands out of Seattle and distinguished itself amongst the likes of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden. AiC was the grunge band with the most obvious metal edge. Really, calling them grunge was a cop out. Their sophomore album Dirt was their biggest hit and is cited by many as their best album. Sadly, front man Layne Staley’s own personal demons limited the band to just three full length albums in the 90’s, as well as a couple of EP’s and a live album (Unplugged).
Dirt is a great album and I have no issue with someone proclaiming it the group’s best as that’s what I’ve always believed. Then a funny thing happened, as I was making out my list I realized it was no longer my favorite Alice in Chains album.
That distinction now belongs to 2009’s Black Gives Way To Blue, the band’s comeback effort following the death of singer Layne Staley in 2002. No one really could have expected the band to continue on, and for awhile it seemed like it would not. Only after doing a one off show for charity did the guys realize they had the desire to make more music together.
William DuVall was added to complete the band and handle the majority of Staley’s vocals while on tour, but for the album guitarist and principal song writer Jerry Cantrell handles most of the vocal duties. DuVall is most used in harmony with Cantrell or on backing vocals, with the exception of the song he penned, “Last of My Kind.”
Most people are familiar with the singles “Check my Brain” and “Your Decision,” both very good songs but if that’s all you’ve heard of the album you’re missing out. “Acid Bubble” is one of the band’s most diverse compositions and perhaps the best song Cantrell has ever written. “Private Hell” finds a nice somber melody for the verse and the explodes at the chorus. It’s one of those songs that knows it has a great chorus, so it doesn’t over-do it. The end result being you want to hear the song again immediately following it’s conclusion. The album’s closer, a ballad dedicated to the late Staley, is the perfect way to wrap things up. It’s sweet and to the point and features piano work by Sir Elton John.
So why do I consider this to be the band’s ultimate album? Perhaps it’s the freshness as Dirt has certainly been over exposed throughout the years (I remember being so sick of “Rooster” when it came out, radio nearly ruined that song for me) to the point that maybe I’m now underestimating it. I choose to think it’s because BGWB is the more complete album. Start to finish, it doesn’t let up. Yes there are a couple of tracks deserving of the label “filler” but the filler here would be stand-out on lesser releases.
This entry isn’t intended a slight against Dirt or the memory of Layne Staley but more to shine light on just how great this album is. I’m happy Alice in Chains is back to making music again. Replacing a lead vocalist is a daunting task for any band which is why it took so long, especially when something tragic creates the need to do so. I look forward to more great things out of this group and if you have the chance to see them live don’t pass it up.
- Acid Bubble
- Private Hell
- Black Gives Way to Blue