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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Alice in Chains -- Jar of Flies

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10/10

Layne Staley almost always took the blame for his actions in the lyrics he and Jerry Cantrell came up with, but at the same time, he was never apologetic. This probably helped Alice in Chains to be as listenable as they were (in their original form). This oxymoron is perfectly spelled out in what is arguably their best effort, and arguably one of the best EP's ever released, Jar of Flies. For the uninitiated who simply think of Alice in Chains as heavy, depressing music, Jar of Flies fits neither description, nor is it "grunge."
Jar of Flies is more of an airy, atmospheric confessional. It starts off with the trademark low Alice in Chains guitar sound, but within seconds, a talkbox comes in to prove this is something completely different. There are far more delicately picked acoustic notes than electric power chords--the electric is mostly used for playing lead lines when it's used. Even the darker songs are filled with space to breathe. "Nutshell" spells out all of Staley's faults, and even includes the haunting line, "Yet I find/repeating in my head/if I can't be my own/I'd feel better dead."

It's a really beautiful song, despite the depths it plumbs, but as soon as it ends, the mood lightens up considerably, even to the point that I would describe the music as fun. "I Stay Away" and "No Excuses" are both bouncy, happy songs, the former featuring soaring strings, and the latter as upbeat a rhythm as AIC ever played. "Whale & Wasp" is a lovely instrumental featuring interplay between a sliding electric guitar, picked acoustic, and strings (the whale gliding underneath). "Don't Follow" keeps the surprising pace, and features bluesy harmonica and singing, while closer "Swing on This" is literally a swing song--as interpreted by Alice in Chains. Of course the duality of this EP stays apparent throughout, especially in this closing song where Staley belts jauntily, "Let me be, I'm alright/can't you see, I'm just fine/little skinny, okay/I'm asleep anyway." At this point Staley was already wasting away from his heroin addiction, but his downplaying is almost believable, as if the shockingly good vibes emanating from this music are enough to sustain him. They do keep his memory alive and Jar of Flies timeless, but...

1994 Columbia Records
1. Rotten Apple 6:58
2. Nutshell 4:19
3. I Stay Away 4:14
4. No Excuses 4:15
5. Whale & Wasp 2:37
6. Don't Follow 4:22
7. Swing on This 4:05

4 comments:

buck09 said...

One of my all time favorite bands. Jar of Flies is a masterpiece. "No Excuses" is probably my favorite AIC song, but its hard to pick a favorite from them.

I'm also a huge Jerry Cantrell fan, and believe ALL of his solo work is nothing short of genius.

What are your thoughts on the new music? The new singer is no Layne Staley but they found someone who can cover his voice pretty well and their newest album is pretty damn good.

Nicholas said...

"No Excuses" is definitely in my AIC top five. Haven't heard a ton of Cantrell's solo stuff, but liked what I heard. Same goes for the new AIC. A former classmate complained to me that the new vocalist doesn't get enough chances to sing without Cantrell harmonizing with him. Is this true, or is he full of it? He has been wrong before.

buck09 said...

I think he is pretty good. You can't replace Layne as that is common knowledge, but you can keep a band going with a new singer. They will forever get shit from the people without an open mind as every band that switches things up.

Do yourself a favor and check out Cantrells solo discography. Two albums is all there is Bogey Depot and a 2 disc album Degradation Trip. Both are top notch.

I haven't revisited their latest album in quite a while but its a very good album, and I'd have to go back and listen to see if Cantrell is harmonizing "too much". But pretty much all their old stuff he does that anyway, it was one of the beauties of the band if you ask me, the way the two worked together.

Nicholas said...

I also enjoyed that element and was confused as to how that could be a detriment. It's like saying "this candy tastes too good."