Sept 29th 2017 marked the 25th anniversary of Seattle ‘rock’ band Alice in Chains sophomore album, entitled Dirt. Reaching number six on the Billboard 200 charts, receiving critical acclaim, number twenty six on Rolling Stones 100 best metal albums & certified four times platinum, continuing on to sell five million copies. Undoubtedly one of the most influential bands of the past 30 years and one of the most time testing records of the decade, Dirt is a force to be reckoned with. Showcasing the full talent of Jerry Cantrell’s (guitarist/background vocalist) song writing paired with the hauntingly unique vocals of the late Layne Staley(vocalist), the themes of the album mostly revolve around the dark topics of anger, sadness, pain, alienation & drug addiction. It’s horribly real and that’s what makes it such a masterpiece.
The opening track titled “Them Bones” is a drilling song just under three minutes focused on the idea of insolation and helplessness, especially noted are Layne’s guttural screams of ‘ah, ah, ahhhh’ that began just shy of 0:01, they set the feel for the album and the emotion that comes with it. Songs such as Dam that River, Angry Chair, Dirt & Hate to Feel all tell harrowing stories of anger and loneliness, whereas other tracks, namely Junkhead, Sickman & God Smack paint grueling pictures of drug addiction, from the point of view of the abuser and a loved one.
The intro to the third track “Rain When I Die” is a shining moment of haunting bass instrumental, spattered with hollow sounding wind chimes and the ever present D tuned guitar. I personally have never heard anything like it before or since, it immediately transports you to a desert wasteland. You can practically feel the sun & taste the sand, painting a picture of despair right off the bat. The droning ‘ahs’ that begin moments later are just as chilling. The lyrics tell the story of a romance ending in the young man asking “Did she call my name? I think it’s gonna rain, oh, when I die”.
“Rooster” is by far the biggest hit off the album, its softer more accessible rock sound mixed with the inspiration for the lyrics which came from Jerry Cantrell’s father who served in the Vietnam War of the 60s and was nicknamed the Rooster made it an instant hit. Another large single off the record would be Down in a Hole, something of a spoof love song, a beautiful, gritty ballad that speaks of a man who can’t seem to dig himself out of his pit. “Down in a hole/ feeling so small/down in hole/losing my soul/ I’d like to fly but my wings have been so denied”.
Lastly is “Would?”, the song that brings the album to a close and what an epic close it is. If you know an Alice in Chains song it’s probably this one, and indeed it seems to capture the band’s sound quite perfectly, from the instantly recognizable bass riff, to Layne Staley’s heart wrenching vocals spinning the tale of Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood (a friend of AIC) who died from a heroin overdose two years earlier in 1990. The final words of the album are the blunt but memorable question of “If I could, would you?”
Ever since I discovered this album around two years ago it has been a staple of my personal music collection, it never gets old and if I haven’t listened to it in a while it’s like a breath of sweet mountain air. I very highly recommend this album to anyone who enjoys music (particularly heavier in both sound and subject matter) I guarantee it’ll at least make you feel something.