Alice in Chains: Dirt
07/12/09 || Trauma
I grew up on this band. Metallica came later, of course, but this band was pretty much the catalyst. I was a pretty consistent MTV viewer by the time I was four years old, so the first time I heard “Man in the box”, I didn’t know what to think, really. I’d heard stuff like Nuclear Assault before, though my total appreciation for that band and its like would come much later. The Seattle movement would resonate with me much sooner and much longer. I find “Dirt” to be the pinnacle of that scene. Soundgarden came close eventually with “Superunknown”, but close sometimes just doesn’t cut it when determining the best. It’s not a subjective best, but the most objective best in this case. Fuck you for disagreeing.
10. They hit their stride. “Facelift” was their debut, and still had some of the awkward holdovers from the 80s glam period. “Sap” really helped them tone it down before they would eventually release this masterpiece. The opening trio of “Them bones”, “Dam that river”, and “Rain when I die” set the overall mood and tone perfectly. It doesn’t stop there, though, for an anti-ballad comes in the form of “Down in a hole”. It’s one of my favorite songs from this band, and on this album. From there you’ve got “Rooster”, “Dirt” (another fave of mine), “God smack”, up to the closer “Would?”. This is a perfect 10 worth of songwriting all right there.
8. Listening to it now, it’s not so great. But it fits the material so well. Which means it’s much better than it truly should be. Now, the mix is done well, though the sound is just a bit muffled, or could have used maybe just a bit more mid and it’s have sounded perfect. Certainly doesn’t work against it, however. With such bleak and depressive subject matter, sometimes a not so pristine production makes for the perfect production. That’s the case here. Excellence through sonic shortcomings, I can’t really elaborate more than that.
10. Jerry Cantrell knows the fucken guitar. The sheer creativity he brings with his riffs, being able to take something so simple as “Them bones” and craft it into a short, catchy song. Literally, no more than about four different chords/riffs. And they sound fucken great. Jerry’s sense of tone and feel are top notch. His fingers are fucken magic, maybe that’s why he was able to get Ann Wilson to sing with them on their previous EP. Back to the beauty of his simplistic riffs, “Dam that river” is pretty much the same, and then he goes on to show off his skill with the wah-pedal with “Dirt”. A definite highlight guitar-wise. If that’s not memorable you’ve got something wrong with your fucken ears.
10. Layne fucken Staley in his final prime. Jerry Cantrell, as well. Those two worked out their vocal harmonies so well back in the day. “Down in a hole” is a pure example of how well it all works. Layne also still had a ton of power behind his voice. Listen to his screams in songs like “Junkhead”, “Dirt”, and “Would?”. His performance is just top notch the whole way through. No one sounded like this man. Jerry Cantrell has a good voice as well, usually much more subdued in the work with Alice in Chains. He’d branch out in his solo career in terms of vocals, but that’s still 6 years away from this album.
8. Mike Starr is underrated, and I sorely missed him in the other albums. Even if the production works to keep his sound from standing out, how and what he plays still manages to make itself heard. I wonder how much of an influence he did have on their sound, being an original member, and I sometimes wonder “What if?”. When you need to hear him, you definitely hear the guy, evident in “Down in a hole”, “Rooster”, and “Would?”. Plus, I just don’t really see Mike Inez coming up with that bassline in “Would?”.
7.5. Sean Kinney is not consistently good enough to be a great drummer, but he pulls it off well on this album. He’s always been hit and miss with me overall. He’s never been so terrible that I cringe at his playing. He usually gets a good rhythm going, but most of the time he’s just there. On “Dirt” it’s preferred, since what we’re after is the vocals and guitar riffs, so his playing is a wise choice. I really do like the drumming on the “ballad” tracks, but there’s not a whole lot of them on this album so I’m going to keep the score at a very respectable 7.5, here.
9. Bleak. Depressive. Fearful. Withdrawn. Addiction. That is both Layne Staley and the lyrics. Cantrell obviously knows his subject matter, both being close to Layne and going through the same shit at times, but not to the same extremes. It’s definitely not for everyone, and some people may be turned off just by the lyrics because of what they tackle.
8. Depressing as ever. A woman fading away in the middle of a fucken desert. That would suck tremendously, to be in her position. She’s even sinking into the ground, as well. You just want to reach into the booklet and help her out, hoping she’ll thank you, for saving her, with a million blowjobs. Well, I do at least.
7. Did they even have a logo? For two albums they did. It’s nothing special, sorta angst-looking. I like it, but nothing to write home about, it’s not like this band was all about imagery.
5. Simple. I don’t really pay much attention to the booklets and AiCs booklets are always kinda distracting. They contain lyrics and some pictures, but nothing I’m shit myself over.
Overall and ending rant
This is the album that put these guys over the top. If you ever wanted to hear the music that defined this band, just play any track off the album. You’d be hard pressed at finding music coming from the Seattle region that was as broadly reaching and underground at the same time. Truly one of the best records I’ve ever had the privilege of owning.
- Released: 1992
- Label: Columbia
- Website: www.aliceinchains.com
- Layne Staley: vocals
- Jerry Cantrell: guitars
- Mike Starr: bass
- Sean Kinney: drums
- 01. Them bones
- 02. Dam that river
- 03. Rain when I die
- 04. Down in a hole
- 05. Sickman
- 06. Rooster
- 07. Junkhead
- 08. Dirt
- 09. Godsmack
- 10. Iron gland
- 11. Hate to feel
- 12. Angry chair
- 13. Would?