24/3/15 – Alice In Chains – Jar Of Flies – No Excuses – Video/ I Stay Away – Video – 1994

Album Of The Day

Video Of The Day

Alice In Chains - Jar Of Flies 1994 Cover ArtAfter some weeks of Electronic music, Liverpool bands, Folk, Seventies, Indie, Prog, Sixties, Singer/Songwriters, Forties and contemporary hipsters, it seemed like it might be time to unleash my secret Alice In Chains fetish. Although, I never actually met anyone that likes Alice In Chains, for me they are one of the heavier highlights of the nineties, moody misfits and despite their success, underrated underlings.

Lead singer Layne Staley was one tortured soul and you could hear despair in his voice on every song. On Jar Of Flies, their acoustic masterpiece, his vibrato growl and eerie harmonies singing low with guitarist Jerry Cantrell’s middle register, tears your heart out knowing of his downward spiral. Staley seemed to be lured down dark, winding, tunnels, demons whispering promises in his head, Gardens Of Eden and hidden treasures, only to find the skeletons of those that also heard the sirens and perished on the rocks of drug addicted misery. Sad, tragic, Staley’s substance abuse finally got the better of him, dying a recluse in 2002 at the age of 34, alone, dead in his apartment for two weeks before they broke the door down and discovered his body.

Being in a band from Seattle in the nineties wasn’t quite like being in a band from Liverpool in the Sixties but if Nirvana were The Beatles, then like their Merseybeat contemporaries, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains were fighting to carve out their own identities. As it happened all three of these bands met with massive success. Their lead singers, Chris Cornell, Eddie Vedder and Layne Staley, like Kurt Cobain were focus points but it was also the sound of these bands and their guitarists that contributed greatly- Stone Gossard and Mike McCready from Pearl Jam, Kim Thayil from Soundgarden and Jerry Cantrell from Alice In Chains together created a scene made from discontent and distorted guitar sounds. Without going in to all the integral drummers and bass players from these bands  – Grunge got big, but Alice In Chains didn’t quite fit the tag.

They weren’t as Indie as Nirvana, not as screechy as Soundgarden, not as considered as Pearl Jam – they were darker, angst poured out of them, even their faster songs seemed to hang in slow-motion and after their second album Dirt exploded in 1992 they toured heavily into 1993. At this point original bassist Mike Starr was fired due to out of control drug abuse (I guess Staley just wasn’t replaceable at this point), Starr also died of an overdose of prescription drugs in 2011 at the age of 44.

Starr’s replacement was Mike Inez and after their heavy touring schedule they decided to go into the recording studio with Inez – the first time they had written songs together with this line-up. Nothing too serious, some jamming, some acoustic guitars and bass together with some softer drums and see what happens. Jar Of Flies was never intended to be released and was conceived in just one week – the rest is history.  Officially it is an EP containing 7 tracks but it became Alice In Chains first No.1. record and the first EP in history to debut on the Billboard Top 200 at No.1. – to date it has sold more than 3 million copies.

Jar Of Flies was in fact Alice In Chains’ second acoustic EP, their first Sap (February 1992) was released between their first album Facelift (1990) and Dirt (September 1992) so the band wasn’t a stranger to the concept. Although Alice In Chains were more associated with Metal, slow, moody and acoustic suited them. At the time Unplugged was popular and lots of bands used the acoustic format to recreate their songs but rarely did they step out of their familiar electric form and actually release a record of original songs that incorporated acoustic guitars.

Opening with Rotten Apple, the mood is set with Mike Inez’s moody bass riff and Jerry Cantrell’s talk box guitar. When the vocal comes in it’s that strange dark harmony, mournful and sumptuous, continuing through the song like a choir of doppelgänger devils. In reality, it’s not actually acoustic, but it isn’t the sound of Alice In Chains as you expect, clean electric guitars feature, despair haunts the words.

Hey ah na na
Innocence is over
Hey ah na na
Over

Hey ah na na
Ignorance is spoken
Hey ah na na
Spoken

Hey ah na na
Confidence is broken
Hey ah na na
Broken

Hey ah na na
Sustenance is stolen
Hey ah na na
Stolen

Hey ah na na
Arrogance is potent
Hey ah na na
Potent, yeah

What I see is unreal
I’ve written my own part
Eat of the apple, so young
I’m crawling back to start

Hey ah na na
I repent tomorrow
Hey ah na na
Tomorrow

Hey ah na na
I suspend my sorrow
Hey ah na na
Sorrow, yeah

What I see is unreal
I’ve written my own part
Eat of the apple, so young
I’m crawling back to start

Hey ah na na
A romance is fallen
Hey ah na na
Fallen

Hey ah na na
Recommend you borrow
Hey ah na na
Borrow, yeah

What I see is unreal
I’ve written my own part
Eat of the apple, so young
I’m crawling back to start

Hey ah na na
Hey ah na na
Hey ah na na
Hey ah na na

Acoustic guitars appear on the second track, Nutshell. Again it’s moody, brushes instead of sticks from Sean Kinney and Staley’s voice is gorgeous pain, fluid, evocative electric guitar lines repeat throughout – and then there’s the lyric:

We chase misprinted lies, we face the path of time
And yet I fight and yet I fight this battle all alone
No one to cry to, no place to call home

My gift of self is raped, my privacy is raked
And yet I find, yet I find repeating in my head
“If I can’t be my own, I’d feel better dead”

I Stay Away was the second single from the EP, a strange video of band puppets, it reached No.10 on the US charts. It has that grinding, gritty, multi-tracked voice that was Staley’s trademark, real string arrangements alternate between lead guitars.

Somehow the next track, No Excuses became a US No.1 single and it shows the size of their fan base at this time. It’s highlighted by Sean Kinney’s perky drumbeat but the song remains dark, catchy, moody and memorable, a foot tapper that highlights Jerry Cantrell’s songwriting prowess.

Whale And Wasp was the EP’s instrumental track, acoustic arpeggio, yearning electric lead line and mournful strings, it’s reminiscent of UFO or Thin Lizzy with its harmony guitar line, it’s a wordless sad ballad.

 Don’t Follow was the third single from the EP, it had no video but still managed to reach No.25 on the US charts. It’s unlike Alice In Chains, it might be any alternative band from the eighties, doing their unplugged set with harmonica. REM, Soul Asylum, Toad the Wet Sprocket, a nod to country but whatever it is, it’s as far away from the Metal image that Alice In Chains are known for – and then out of nowhere, it changes in the middle, harmonica stays but drums come in and then it might be The Doobie Brothers or The Allman Brothers before falling back into the original arpeggio.

Swing On This, the final track is like twisted Broadway – Jazz club to dark alley as if one camera shows what’s happening inside the building as the show commences and the other, a shocking reality outside the building for those on the street not able to access the safe cocoon inside.

All in all, it’s a surprising record, crossing genres and generating darkness and light simultaneously with its hooks and horrors. Staley managed one more record with Alice In Chains, self-titled in 1995 and the side project Mad Season released in the same year, featuring Mike McCready from Pearl Jam on guitar, Barrett Martin from Screaming Trees on drums and the bassist from The Walkabouts, John Baker Saunders – he died of a heroin overdose in 1999. Jerry Cantrell released a solo album Boggy Depot in 1998 and then another album Degradation Trip in 2002, dedicated to Staley.

As of today Alice In Chains are back together with Staley sound alike William DuVall on lead vocals and to date have released two albums, Black Gives Way To Blue (2009) and The Devil Put Dinosuars Here (2013) – they continue to inhabit a slow, moody darkness.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jar_of_Flies

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_Excuses

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Stay_Away

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alice_in_Chains

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alice_in_Chains_discography

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry_Cantrell

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Layne_Staley

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mad_Season_(band)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mike_Inez

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sean_Kinney

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mike_Starr_(musician)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_DuVall

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