Mad Season: Above

This is like my fourth attempt to like this album. I don’t like it…because it pretty much blows. It’s singer Layne Staley (Alice In Chains), guitarist Mike McCready (Pearl Jam), drummer Barrett Martin (Screaming Trees), and bassist John Baker Saunders (The Walkabouts) (one of these guys doesn’t belong), so it’s got an all-star cast. But they’re just trotting out the same, tired grunge tropes that Alice In Chains had already worn out by the end of their 1992 album Dirt.

Everything here seems obvious and re-heated.  There are enjoyable moments, but never is there a surprise or a new sound. It’s slow like they’re being reflective of their recent rehab (Saunders and McCready met up in rehab in Minnesota), but it just ends up being tortured-young-white-rich-male pity-party plodding. They overplayed their hand, and even I wanted something different by 1995.

Even the names seem like they were just pulled from Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains cast offs: “I’m Above” (also very reminiscent of Gruntruck’s “Above Me”), “River Of Deceit” (the obligatory mix of nature with negative human social construct), “Lifeless Dead” (as opposed to the vivacious dead?), and “All Alone” (guys, the teenage boys who were so into your bands a few years ago have all lost their virginity now).

Staley and Martin are the only ones really doing anything here. I mean, it’s really their band…their fingerprints are over this the most. McCready…well, this is not his best work. He’s a guitar wizard well-suited to arena rock and blazing solos. This is slow bluesy stuff that Alice In Chains’ Jerry Cantrell does much better. And Saunders…I don’t know what his deal is. It’s like token bassist. You guys left all the songwriters back in your other bands.

They never put together one solid song, and with the last two being complete throwaways, it’s obvious that the biggest failing here is a lack of material. There are moments in the first four songs, even the created-in-a-sterile-grunge-factory “River Of Deceit,” that hint at what might have been with a more fully realized product. But this is just half-assed from top to bottom.

– “Wake Up,” “X-Ray Mind,” “I’m Above,” “Lifeless Dead,” “I Don’t Know Anything,” “All Alone”
– “River Of Deceit,” “Artificial Red,” “Long Gone Day,” “November Hotel”
Filed Between: Yo-Yo Ma (The Protecting Veil) and Made In Minnesota – Volume One
Song Notes: After the jump

  1. Wake Up – open now since it’s at most open, but I may promote this. No, it’s just too slow and droney. It’s good for background music when I’m making a kid waffles in the morning, but not even good enough for zoning out to while I’m coding.
  2. X-Ray Mind – Think I may like this one. No, I don’t.
  3. River Of Deceit – Total grungey named song. Mix terrible human aspect with nature. God. This could have come right off of Jar Of Flies. I’m not sure it didn’t. And that, more than a dislike of the song, is what causes my body to reject it. And I hate the line “or so the prophet says,” it just seems like such a poorly thought out lyric. And the lyrics of “down oh down.” Ugh, it had all been done by this point. “Our pain is self-chosen.” [rolls eyes] And now later I think I may promote this. Not to full, that’s for sure.
  4. I’m Above – Another one named like it could have been off a Pearl Jam or Alice In Chains album. The pre-chorus is sweet and keeps it at a level open. Oy, but it takes a long time to get there. I want to break this thing.
  5. Artificial Red – starts off slow, bluesy, boring. so boring. Has no business being four minutes, much less the six-plus that it is.
  6. Lifeless Dead – WTF with the stupid ass song titles? Oh god and this is the one that gets stupidly repetitive with the title. Like a lot of these songs there’s one good part in this song. And I think it’s the pre-chorus as usual. Or it’s a bridge or post-chorus or something. But even that runs too long. Not everything has to be in multiples of four, guys.
  7. I Don’t Know Anything – And this one starts off with the annoying repeating thing right at the start. Very Dirt. And I don’t mean that in a good way. I mean, Dirt was too long and they’d kind of mastered that form with that album. They need to move on. Post-publish I’m moving this up to open. Because if you’re not paying close attention it’s not that bad.
  8. Long Gone Day – This is one of a couple of songs that would have fit on a Tuatara album, with the hand percussion and the saxophone doing the smoky bar vibe; and Martin was involved in that project, too. Not as offensive as some of the other broken hearts on this disc, but not all that interesting.
  9. November Hotel – Nice place to watch the November Rain? yawn.
  10. All Alone – Ugh with the names! Pretty boring. Almost could have been a hidden track for how little happens. Sounds really nice at the end. Don’t know if that justifies the time it takes to get there. Aw hell, I think I’ll throw them a bone on this and leave as open.

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