Music Review: Alice In Chains – Alice In Chains (self titled 1995 release)

The End of an Era

In the last review, we went slightly off the chronological track and peered into the 2 Acoustic releases. It’s now 1995, and Alice In Chains is at its peak, with Grunge all but dead by this point. With Nirvana having disbanded only a year earlier, Alice In Chains isn’t facing too much competition. Today we delve into the Self Titled album and take a look at the amazing piece of work that brought a tragic end to an era of music, the likes of which the world will never see again.

Another one of those, “stop and let me explain” starts.

Due to this album being a self titled effort and the way that it’s used in a sentence, during this review the Band will be referred to as Alice In Chains, like it was before. This album, however, will be referred to as AIC to alleviate confusion.

Only a year after the successful Acoustic EP Jar of Flies was released, Alice In Chains was back in the studio for another album. By this point, tensions were starting to mount within the band, and it was starting to bring out hard feelings from all members. But the fans’ craving for new music never sleeps, and Alice In Chains has never been about ignoring fans.

Once again experimenting with a new sound, the intro for this album, ‘Grind’ starts with the signature strange noises, but for once its not from Layne’s vocals. No this time its from Jerry’s guitar, and it is a welcome change. We get a consistent and unchanging tune through the whole song and its predictability lends to an oddly satisfying song. It’s weird tempo works quite well here and once again, another album with a strong opener.

Track two, ‘Brush away,’ begins with Layne doing his signature dead cat impression, moving into the biker bar sound and then going back to a somewhat classic Alice In Chains sound. While it is good, it’s quite forgettable, and I rarely hear any Alice In Chains fans mention it when asked to name 3 songs that are incredible from this album. The same cannot be said of the next track however.

When Layne starts out a song with weird noises and even weirder pausing points, it’s normally not a good sign, but that is not the case with ‘Sludge Factory.’ With an appropriate name, this is a pure Sludge Metal track, and is probably the most unique sounding song on this whole album, with no clear similarities to the other songs. Being the second longest Alice in Chains song overall (at 7:13, The only song longer, ‘Over now.’ is also on this album), and given that generally Alice In Chains’ longer songs don’t tend to be super great, with very few amazing long songs, this still makes it to #2 on my overall favourite Alice In Chains, song list. Which if you have seen how much I praised ‘Would?’ goes to show just how good of a song this is.

Track four, in my opinion however, takes a massive dive and delivers quite possibly the only song that I dislike as much as ‘(untitled).’ ‘Heaven Beside You’ is another case of painfully slow and boring, with a distinctly acoustic sound until nearly the end of it. Unsure of what ‘Heaven Beside You’ wants to be, it comes off as confused, trying to choose between acoustic and metal. This song honestly feels like it takes up half of the entire album, and I personally skip this song every time it plays on anything.

‘Head Creeps,’ the fifth track, straight away throws us into a chorus so addictive it should be illegal. Once again, a case of a song that, when you finish, leaves you wishing it was longer. Its got a strange droning guitar sound during every part where Layne says, “Just one more time.” and its quite a good fit for those parts of the song. ‘Head Creeps” near infinite replayability is strange considering that this is, once again, another long song, much like most of the songs from this album.

Track six, ‘Again,’ is a strange one. It’s constantly skating on thin ice between being confusing enough to be bad but then redeeming itself and bringing us back to the head bobbing motions when the chorus starts. For a song with such prevalent repetition, it’s surprisingly catchy. One of the few songs with a reasonable duration, it’s also one of the most entertaining; what ruins it a bit is the sudden and very messily cut ending.

‘Shame in you,’ the seventh track on AIC, takes us to just over the halfway point of the album, and is a calmer song. Feeling a bit like a song that should maybe have been on Jar of Flies, it gives us a calm and somewhat relaxing feel, even when it gets towards the end of the song where it begins to speed up a bit. The vocals are drawn out a little but those guitars can make up for almost any sins here.

Track eight, ‘God am,’ is a song I find myself listening to almost as much as ‘Would?.’ The song starts out quite badly, but you feel almost compelled to listen to it as if the skip button is no longer an option. When the drawn out boring verses finally end and the chorus starts we are immersed in an amazing display of what Layne and Jerry can accomplish together when singing at the same time. A true masterpiece in its own right, its the ideal mix of acoustic, sludge and metal, and it’s pacing is just perfect.

The ninth track, ‘So close,’ continues the weird sounds vibe that AIC is filled with, it starts out with strange noises that transition into a stranger chorus. I find myself humming the tune more often than I would like, but it does tend to grind on you pretty quickly and get quite annoying because of that. The, “so close now'” being repeated way too often is the single thing that holds this song back from being great, which is rather sad because the instrumental parts are quite good.

‘Nothin’ Song,’ the tenth track, contains some of the downright strangest and most awkward lyrics I have ever heard. The song honestly isn’t that bad, but oh my lord the lyrics are so bad to the point that once you know them, this entire song seems, for lack of a better word; dumb. It somewhat feels more like a joke song, or at the very least, not a serious one. My biggest gripe with, ‘Nothin’ Song’ is that the guitars at times seem to get a bit quiet and are somewhat forgotten at quite a few parts of the song. Overall, it leads to an experience that I can only describe as:  empathetic embarrassment. If not taken seriously, this song is quite good, but save do yourself a favor and DO NOT learn the lyrics.

As we get to the second to last track we are immediately aware of something that needs to be addressed; this song is 8 minutes long, and it definitely did not need to be. This is actually the longest Alice In Chains song to date. ‘Frogs’ is a ridiculously long track, it’s so long in fact, that it beats the length of the 2nd longest song from their entire catalogue by a whole minute; this truly is a huge mistake. The song realistically feels like it should have been split into two parts, or at the very least, 2 minutes could have been dropped and this song could be amazing. What you are instead left with is a song that goes for far longer than a song reasonably ever should and an overall experience that can’t be made better by the instruments. You can clearly see halfway through that they are running on creative fumes for this song. At some points it downright feels like it was originally a 4 minute song that’s been slowed down a whole lot. I would say for sheer time saving reasons, and the fact that the song itself isn’t really the greatest, you could quite safely skip this song and not have your experience from AIC diminished in any way whatsoever.

Taking a complete turn from the last track however, the final song on this album, ‘Over Now’ is another showcase of a good longer song. Starting with about 20 seconds of silence and then moving into a calm but somewhat dark sounding melody. The speed on this is once again inconsistent but it works out here somehow. Bringing forth a lot of sad feelings during the halfway point and near the end of the song. ‘Over Now’ gives us a showcase of what Jerry can do on his guitar with a calmer tune and we also get a showcase of how the drums can make a song feel a bit more emotional; with the intentional and precise tune it takes, it feels almost like a drumming machine. There is not much that can be said about this song, because much like, ‘Would?’ it speaks leagues for itself by just being played. Sadly, this is the final song that Layne Staley ever recorded before his death in 2002, which to me feels almost eerie and foreboding. With his passing, an entire era of such a unique musical sound went with him, and the gradual and slow end to this song feels almost like the ending of that era is played right then and there.

Some fun facts about this album:

  • This is their second best selling album having sold 3 million copies since its release in 1995
  • It also produced their two longest songs; Sludge Factory and Frogs (as mentioned in the article)
  • It is their second longest album by duration at 64 minutes only beaten by their most recent album which clocks in at 67 minutes
  • It contains the highest number of songs over 5 minutes long from their catalogue at 4

Thoughts? Discuss down below!

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