The Most Powerful Rock Album of 1995
From the archives: Carl E. Baugher reviews Alice In Chains' self-titled album
(This review, written by Carl E. Baugher, originally appeared in Issue 5/6, Winter 1995/96.)
Here’s the most powerful rock album of the year. Not necessarily the best, mind you, but definitely the most powerful. Alice In Chains has long been the heaviest of the hard n’ heavy bands out of Seattle. This eponymously titled release is their most ambitious and, arguably best in a string of excellent albums. It combines the range and creativity of "Jar Of Flies" with the slam and drama of "Dirt".
Singer Layne Staley and power guitarist extraordinaire Jerry Cantrell tend to dwell on the down/darkside of human nature in their lyrics. There’s little optimism in their mostly desperate view of life and its tribulations. Songs like “Grind” and “Sludge Factory” have a sense of desperation about them that is hard to shake. On the other hand, there’s a willful, aggressive core of perseverance in these lyrics which keeps AIC’s music from being unrelentingly gloomy. Good thing.
Musically, these guys hit hard as a sledgehammer. Staley is a strong wailer with an extended range and a flair for phrasing who mixes things up enough to keep his vocals interesting. Cantrell is a stone virtuoso—he’s one of the few younger players who may yet challenge Steve Vai for the technical crown in the electric rock guitar Olympics. The rhythm section should not be overlooked, however, because this band functions as a cohesive unit and its impact is a sum of its considerable parts.
LP sonics are about as good as it gets but the CD ain’t too shabby. The LP is thicker, stronger and has more body while the CD sounds thinned-out and weaker, despite its extended range and impressive dynamics. Listen to the low end roar on the LP whenbassist Mike Inez hits that subterranean note on “Sludge Factory.” The CD just doesn’t have the same impact. The vinyl comes in a gatefold, double-disc set which has been cut satisfyingly hot with no distortion, over-modulation or other nastiness. Hats off to Marcussen and the Sony folks. And the LP labels are reproductions of the old 60s Columbia “360 Sound” labels (well, kinda—in a pig’s eye). You’ll have to buy the record to see the important difference.