The Botched and the Beautiful
Last time it was 1992 and Alice in Chains had just released their overwhelmingly successful album Dirt. We saw them stray away from the Grunge label into new musical territory. In this review we look at their 2 Acoustic EP’s, released between Facelift and Dirt
Before we begin I would just like to quickly explain a few things.
- What is an EP? An EP, or Extended Play, is a smaller musical release than an Album. On the other hand, an Album is no longer considered an EP when it has more than 4 tracks, or is longer than 20 minutes.
2. Sap was released in 1992 and actually came out before Dirt, while Jar of Flies was released in 1994, and came out after Dirt. You may be asking, “So why are you reviewing them together?” The reason is because after 1995 they came bundled together, and are generally considered to be a sort of “Siblings” release; it didn’t feel right reviewing them separately. Also, they have a combined length of 51 minutes, which is about the same as most of the other releases. Now into the review
The ’90’s is considered by many to be one of the greatest periods in musical history, and with too many good albums from that era to count, I’m somewhat inclined to agree.
Amidst the numerous new styles in the 90’s Acoustic music still manged to maintain relevance, and MTV reinforced this with their Unplugged sessions series, where musical groups would preform acoustic versions of their songs to a small audience.
Alice In Chains, between touring and producing a follow up to their first album, wanted to show their softer side and released the first of 2 acoustic albums; Sap
It’s a noticeably different Alice In Chains than we are used to by this point. The first track, ‘Brother,’ which remains calm and soft the whole way through. Featuring guitarist, and backup vocalist, Jerry Cantrell showing off his impressive vocals most of the song while lead vocalist, Layne Staley (mostly) takes a back seat. At certain points we are graced with a serene and calm female voice in there too. It’s quite a noticeable pattern that Alice In Chains albums generally have amazing opening tracks, and this is no exception to that.
Track two, ‘Got me Wrong’ once again has Jerry taking the lead but Layne is roughly an equal now. The chorus begins at quite an early point in the song, and reminds us why we should stay on this track; with its constant teasing us and leaving us wanting more of it. One of the few choruses that could do with being repeated a few more times in the song perhaps. ‘Got me Wrong’ can stand its own, even compared to main album releases. Unfortunately, things only go downhill from here.
‘Right Turn,’ the third track, starts and immediately begins the confusing sound problem that plagues this album all too much. Painfully slow the whole way through and extremely boring. It sounds unfinished and badly written at a lot of points during the song. With near constant droning of, “it ain’t right” and a badly yelled, and downright distracting chorus playing in the background. For the most part, I feel compelled to skip this song almost as soon as it comes on.
Which sadly doesn’t help when we get to track four, ‘I am inside.’ Yet again, we are “treated” to an unbearably slow mess of a song; the chorus has a nonsensical tune to say the very least. It is yet another song that just begs to be skipped most of the time, however, at any point where the chorus isn’t playing, its honestly not terrible. The problem with this song lies in how badly written the chorus is, and with Alice in Chains, the chorus is often half of what makes the songs truly amazing.
We then transition into a song so bad that they didn’t even bother to name it! ‘Untitled,’ AKA track five, starts with a piano solo that sounds like its straight from a Queen song… Which then inserts fart noises, a guy exclaiming, “wooo” a bunch, tons of sniffing sounds, and a guy exclaiming some pretty, “anti young people” things. By this point the piano is going crazy and sounds fully terrible; the song is too far beyond saving by this point. The biggest indicator of how bad this is, is that Spotify doesn’t even include this in their song lists!
Overall, the most I would feel comfortable giving this album a 3/10. There is never an excuse for an album to only have 2 good songs and Sap showcases the reasons why. As the undisputed worst Alice in Chains album, the only reason you should ever own this is if you bought it before 1994, or you just wanted to buy Jar of Flies like I did.
The 1994 release, Jar of Flies on the other hand, is a showcase of what a risky move can create.
‘Rotten Apple,’ is the opening track and shows us the only long song that can tie with the likes of ‘Rooster.’ Layne’s signature weird noises work perfectly, repeating, “hey ya, nah nah” in between each verse in such a way that, if he truly wanted to, he could probably make that alone half the song. It’s the only song of theirs that is an astounding 7 minutes long, so good it feels like its only 3 minutes long.
Carrying the torch of its previous track, ‘Nutshell,’ is an astounding second track. You should see by now that normally the first 2 tracks are works of art. This is no exception to that trend. This is the track that invokes the highest amount of emotions from the listener and feels like the most emotionally heavy song they have ever made. Most of the time when I hear this I feel my eyes start to close and my breathing start to change. Layne’s voice on this track, its a thing of grace, and incites a real whirlwind of feelings. ‘Nutshell’ shouldn’t ever be skipped. It’s a song that most people I’ve shown it to, who hate anything that is even remotely non-serene or un-calm, love.
‘I stay away,’ the third track, is another astounding work of art. Starting once again with Layne’s strange noises and odd vocals. The song generally confuses me until we reach just over halfway, where it really picks up and shows us its true colours with the chorus. A case where weirder is better, we find violins blend in perfectly with the other instruments. While this may not have the most normal music video, its probably the only one of their music videos that I would recommend watching, just because it fits so perfectly with the song.
Yet another amazing song greets us by track four when, ‘No excuses’ starts. With a strange, almost traditional, Indian music sound to it; its a very foreign sound from Alice in Chains. Halfway through, the biker bar sound from the last album begins showing, and it actually fits here rather well. Although, it does make this track feel like it takes somewhat too long.
Track five is an instrumental track that gives the 2 singers a small break before they get back into it. ‘Whale and Wasp’ shows us a very calm and short song that gives us little lasting impressions. Though, almost magical while it lasts. It is, however, sadly the transition into the worst song on this release.
‘Don’t Follow,’ the sixth song, shows us that it is possible to be way too calm and slow. Straying way too far from the sound of the rest of the songs, it almost sounds boring and lazy enough to have come from Sap. Although, to be honest, I think that Sap could probably flow faster than the time this song feels like it takes to end. With a badly thought out chorus and a horrible tempo, ‘Don’t Follow’ sets itself in stone as the only completely terrible song here.
‘Swing on This’ is not exactly the greatest track they could have chosen to end the album with. More cases of, “too confusing to be understandable.” The words feel like they have been stretched out for far too long, and feel really forced at most points. While it’s not 100% terrible, ‘Swing on This’ doesn’t even manage to be 50% good either. It’s safe to say that you would be good to save 8 minutes in your day by just skipping the last 2 songs on this album. Listen to something else instead.
Overall, I would give this an 8/10, which is the 2nd highest rated EP that I have heard (I might cover number 1 another time in the future perhaps).
A fun little facts about these EP’s, Jar of Flies was the first ever EP in history to reach number 1 on the billboard 200 and has sold a total of 4 Million copies worldwide since its release; making Jar of Flies the second best selling Alice in Chains album (only beaten by Dirt with a total of 5 Million copies sold). Conversely, Sap has only sold enough copies in the USA to actually receive a Recording Industry certification. Having only sold 500,000 copies in the USA, and an unknown amount everywhere else, this is the second worst selling Alice in Chains album. Beaten only by their newest album, which has only reportedly sold 120,000 copies.
Thoughts? Discuss down below.