Hello Beautiful World,
I find it hard to believe that albums in my record collection are starting to celebrate their 20th Anniversary. The reason I feel this way is because a lot of the records celebrating this anniversary are records that still feel fresh to my ears. It’s music that has not dated and music that still sounds young and vital. Although popular opinion may not agree, that’s how I feel.
All of that aside, the album I’m here to talk about is the second album from Alice in Chains, “Dirt” – and what an album it is. I still remember the day I brought “Dirt” back in 1997. At this point the album had been out for five years and was an album that was iconic in the cultural artifact that is the Seattle music scene of the early 90’s. Some people may refer to this as Grunge, but anyone who has a healthy investment in accurate music history knows that Grunge is a myth and all the bands from that town and from that era are all a beautifully unique group of rock n roll bands. Grunge is a nice way to describe the movement, but it sells the whole scene incredibly short and is not an accurate snapshot of what happened in Seattle in the early 90’s, but that’s an opinion for a whole other blog that I plan to write
So, there I am, it’s 1997 and I’ve just moved from Mackay to Bundaberg and I’ve just started grade nine. A new school, a new town, obesity, teenage alienation and not a lot of friends. So basically, I sunk into myself and got further into music. Life did get better, but the terrible process of moving towns was only in its beginning stages, so at that point I was a pretty lonely character. What do lonely people do? They listen to great music and at that point I had some great music in my collection. I had all the great Seattle bands in my collection, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarden and Screaming Trees, and I was looking to add to it. At that particualr point in time I was keen into getting the Melvins and Mudhoney but there wasn’t a lot of access to those kind of bands in a small town like Bundaberg. One band that was available was Alice In Chains.
I had experienced Alice In Chains on minor scale through video clips on Rage and a copy the Unplugged concert they did which I had taped off Rage. So I had some attachment to their music but I hadn’t fully devoured it. Through luck I managed to score a bit of Cash and after weeks of looking at it and yearning to purchase, I finally brought “Dirt” on CD from Big W. To say that this was a life changing moment is an understatement.
Alice In Chains are a band who I’d list in my top ten bands of all time. Although for many years, the last 5 years or so, I felt ashamed to admit how much I love Alice In Chains, due to the ridicule of hipster assholes, but ever since they returned with “Black Gives Way To Blue” in 2009 I’ve slowly come to realise that they are one of my favourite bands. The reason for this has a lot to do with what I first heard when I brought “Dirt” back in 1997. To put it in simple terms, and this is with the beauty of hindsight, but the way I’ve always viewed Alice In Chains is that they are the missing link between Metallica and Tool. The way I’ve always justified this is that they have the heaviness and blue collar nature of Metallica but have the more progressive nature of a band like Tool. The music Alice In Chains make is incredibly unique and it truly is an original sound. You can hear hints of influences in their sound, the sonic landscapes they create truly have carved out a new language in the hard rock universe. They didn’t just riff, they wrote really great songs with very intricite melodic structure. Further to this, their music was incredibly dark and incredibly personal. It has an honesty that can be so brutal it can reduce you to tears. This was rock n roll with an incredible depth.
This brings me to the album “Dirt” and it’s importance in the history of rock n roll. On a simple and very basic level, “Dirt” set the template for how hard rock / heavy metal would sound over the next twenty years. Whether or not those bands were coming from the same pure and artistic place as Alice In Chains is open for debate. The truth is they influenced a generation and became a benchmark for emotional hard rock. That is an achievement worth celebrating. On a personal level for me, the album is just a masterpiece. It’s a journey through the many moods of addiction and the way in which Alice In Chains capture the despair, isolation and agony of addiction is incredible. It’s an incredibly dark piece of work, probably the darkest album they ever released. Sometimes this darkness may turn people off, but it’s not an immature darkness. It’s a darkness that is rooted in a real struggle that was attached to all four band members. There is no way you could fake the darkness the band tapped into for “Dirt” and it’s hard not to be moved by the emotion pouring from each song. Beyond the darkness, there are some incredible pop skills on display. The way in which Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell weave their melodies is so pop smart that if you stripped away the riffs and the heaviness, you’d have some really interesting pop music. That is the genius of the band however, the way they mix these pop skills, vocal melodies and heaviness to make a dynamic sound that goes on many different journeys.
One point I feel I need to address before I conclude and that is the way in which some people link the sound of Alice In Chains to a lot of the bullshit music that came in the whole “Post-Grunge” era of music. Let me just say this, you’re a fool to even compare what Alice In Chains do and what the “Post-Grunge” bands do. As a band, Alice In Chains inspired a lot of people to make music and that is a positive, but what the bands and record labels did in order to make money off it after the Seattle bands had faded away is a farily bummer ending for all the great music that Seattle gave us. My basic point is, don’t trust the “Post-Grunge” era bands, although they may be influenced by what bands like Alice In Chains did, they don’t give an accurate example of what was so great about the Seattle bands.
So, anyway, if you’ve made it this far you’re either fist pumping and remember how much you love Alice In Chains or are a curious panda. Either way, whether you believe in riffs or heavy music it doesnt matter because a band like Alice In Chains is incredibly important when you talk about the history of Rock N Roll. If you’re 25 and younger you probably won’t know just how important Alice In Chains were to music, but now is the perfect time to find out why. I’m proud to be a fan of Alice In Chains and their album “Dirt” is a mighty fine record and one that sounds just as important in 2012 as it did in 1992.
BIg Love To You All