“Alice In Chains Continues” is the story here. I couldn’t write the review of Black Gives Way To Blue without spending much of that time talking about the death of lead singer Layne Staley and comparing his work to that of his replacement, William DuVall. Now, on the follow-up, that fades into the background as this new incarnation just seems obvious.
A lot of the obviousness of this continuation has to do with, as on Black Gives Way To Blue, they’re not breaking new ground here. This is pretty standard drop-D tuning distorted guitar and vocals and too-long songs about broken people in depressing situations. But who cares? The songs are at least different than their old stuff and it’s not like they were derivative in the first place. It’s just like getting more Alice In Chains. Nobody else is writing music like this anymore, so if you’re sitting around listening to Facelift and Dirt and thinking, “I really want more of this kind of music, even if it’s not as mind-blowingly good as these albums,” then I invite you to join up with The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here. (In case you were wondering, yes, the title of the album is a political reference; the title track is an anti-fundamentalist-Christian tune.)
The album’s first track, “Hollow,” is also its first single. I was really down on this song when it was released a month or so ago, in part because it was just so standardly like their old stuff. I don’t hate it anymore, but the problems with it are endemic in the first half of the album. Typically when an album bunches up its best songs, it does so in the first half. Here, though, it’s the second half that shines. Of the 12 songs, the second full-hearted one is track seven, “Low Ceiling,” at which point an awesome stretch of four consecutive full hearts rocks it hard.
There are quotes from Dirt and Jar Of Flies, but the songs do end up going in different directions, in refreshing and encouraging ways. Guitarist and main songwriter Jerry Cantrell may be working from the same toolbox he always has, but he is building new things. There are more misses than there were back in the glory days, but the hits make it worthwhile.
Black Gives Way To Blue also garnered a 3.5-clown rating, and this album is at least a little bit better than that one, especially due to that awesome stretch from “Low Ceiling” and “Phantom Limb.” (The prior album probably had the same great to okay mix of songs, just not bunched together like they are here.) And there’s nothing on Black Gives Way To Blue that’s as good as this album’s “Breath On A Window,” which stands with any Alice In Chains song. If they’d cut out “Voices” and “Lab Monkey” and cut down on the length of some of the other songs, it could have been four clowns. Welcome back, Alice In Chains.
– “Pretty Done,” “Low Ceiling,” “Breath On A Window,” “Scalpel,” “Phantom Limb”
– “Hollow,” “Stone,” “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here,” “Lab Monkey,” “Hung On A Hook,” “Choke”
Song Notes: After the jump
- Hollow – Like this more than when I heard it as the single.
- Pretty Done –
- Stone –
- Voices – boring
- The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here – Starts off slow and boring, but gets better. Not crazy about the verses, but the pre-choruses and choruses are pretty sweet.
- Lab Monkey –
- Low Ceiling –
- Breath On A Window – Reminiscent of something from Dirt I think. But it moves in a different direction after the first two choruses of a stanza and it works. Then by bridge it gets really good. This will be a single, I guarantee it. Legitimately a great song. Easily the album’s best.
- Scalpel – That opening riff would have fit right on Sap or Jar Of Flies. Perhaps too well. Look at that, three full hearts right in a row. Great stretch.
- Phantom Limb –
- Hung On A Hook – Starts awful but gets pretty sweet. Almost all of these are too long.
- Choke –