Tag Archives: Alice in Chains

[16] Alice In Chains – Dirt

26 Jul

I remember seeing and hearing Alice In Chains for the first time on MTV, when MTV still played music.

Dirt (Alice in Chains album)

The images were starker, dirtier than the hair metal videos that were my favorites at the time, but they were striking and stuck with me. I also vividly recall thinking that I wanted to hear more of this band – full of powerful guitars and internal monologue lyrics. I planned to pick up Dirt. Somehow I never did.

Let’s blame Seattle.

Of course these days I know the tracks from this album which still pepper classic rock radio (and doesn’t that make me feel old), but I never explored deeper, never made Alice In Chains one of “my” bands. And this is as good a time as any to find out why . . .

Alice In Chains has always been just another Grunge band – nameless, faceless, samey in my head. I was always aware of them, but never engaged, never internalized. And this is a shame. Everything here is catchy and cryptic, melodic despite its crunchy edge.

I didn’t dislike the Grunge sound itself but disliked the way that popular culture dismissed my favored bands (some just as they were about to bloom) in favor of this “new” Seattle sound. The sound is in fact not especially new – it was the image, the look that was new. I hated that look.

Yet none of that is relevant to the hard rock album I am tapping my foot, bobbing my head to more than 20 years later, surprised at how much of it I remember.

The composition is simple – the chugging guitar riffs, the heartbeat drum thumping, the rudimentary yet somehow unexpected vocal harmonies over the almost droning lead.

And it turns out I’m loving it.

There is shading and coloring across the collection of songs – it’s not all straight ahead rock – and I find there is not a dead spot to be found as I listen to the album as a whole. There are moments of Hendrix-esque soloing, jazzy stop-time signatures and odd vocal choices, all keeping me on my toes as a listener.

Although the effect as a whole reminds me of any number of bands from my rock-clubbing days (I miss The Hungry Years) there are more than enough guitar flourishes and “found art” sounds enhancing the already engaging metal that I find plenty to explore on repeated plays.

I guess time does heal wounds, because I can listen to and enjoy Alice In Chains today without lamenting their effect on obscure favorites – bands like Bang Tango and Love/Hate that never got their shot – kept obscure by the rise of Grunge.

Owned before blogging? No. (1 of 16.  6%)
Heard before blogging? No. (3 of 16.  19%)
Recommend? Yes. (12 of 16.  75%)

Next Week:  Mose Allison – Allison Wonderland

Guest Blogger Tom Savini: Alice In Chains – Dirt

23 Jul

Time for another guest blog, this time by my good friend Tom Savini.
No, not that one.


Alice in Chains released Dirt in 1992, a year that I remember as optimistic, hopeful relatively positive.

I was 27, and my memory of grunge is that it made me feel old. I remember Nirvana, and some of their songs stand out as distinct in my memory. I remember Pearl Jam, and can probably sing one or two of their songs. But for the most part, grunge seemed made for the generation just behind mine – it seemed at the time that I was not supposed to ‘get it,’ or appreciate it, which was fine because I really didn’t.

I remember hearing the name ‘Alice in Chains’ in the 90s, spoken of with some awe by teenagers I taught, VJs and Rolling Stone magazine, but honestly, I couldn’t pick them out, visually or musically, from the blur of flannel and smack that that is Grunge in my memory.

When Avri asked me to review a disc from his list of 1K, I decided to be uncharacteristically risky and pick Dirt – it seemed like a disc I should have heard back then, and struck me as something I should probably hear before I die. I’m not a risky music-listener. I’m the equivalent of a diner patron who orders one of the same five meals and enjoys them – Avri’s the connoisseur, I’m the unsophisticated listener.

With that said, I’m not sure that I found anything sophisticated or risky about the melodies on Dirt. All 13 songs featured the repetitive guitar hacking that is the hallmark of grunge, bottomed with droning bass and trying-to-be-clever abrupt tempo-changes. It got old after five songs – I was expecting maybe a slight change in style to offer some variety, but the best I got was a little more guitar action on the title track. It sounded like the guy from up the street who actually took guitar lessons stopped by to play a track on the garage band’s demo.

In general I like melodies, but my love of songs is usually decided by lyrics. If the words of a song are clever, or if they say something that means something to me, the song will stay with me, and I will learn to love the melody. If I had to pick between Dirt’s tracks, I’d say that those written solo by Jerry Cantrell drew me in more than the ones he co-wrote with Layne Staley, and far more than Staley’s solo-written tracks.

Overall, the themes of ennui, despair, and heroin just didn’t connect with me – not today at 48 anymore than those themes of grunge connected to me at 27 in 1992. I found myself hoping for some progression to the themes of the songs, but the disc remained repetitive in theme as it did in tone – “Life sucks, I’m alone, give me some dope, I’m gonna die.” It left me cold in the 90s, which I suspect is the effect Alice in Chains was hoping for from anyone over 25 at the time, and I had little patience for the whining self-indulgence today.

Every generation has its soundtrack, and grunge was not part of mine. My attachment to my soundtrack is based not only on the music itself, but to the life I was living when these songs were hard-wired into my brain. The laughing and crying and raging and contentment I was feeling at those times is as much a part of ‘my’ music as the scores and production of the songs themselves.

Without that connection to grunge, or to Alice in Chains, my experience of listening to Dirt left me feeling like an empty fossil, to quote a line by Cantrell.

I’m sure he’d have it no other way.


Tom says:

“I was born and raised in Buffalo, NY, and hope to return there sometime soon.  Currently, I live in Brooklyn, NY.  I studied history in school, and spent my first decade out of college working in human services until I found a job that actually makes use of history degrees.  My favorite band is Fleetwood Mac.”


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