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Alice In Chains

Alice In Chains


Alice In Chains did everything a Grunge group should do. They formed in Seattle, landed a recording contract (Columbia Records), had drug problems (singer Layne Staley's battle was documented or referred to in several songs), released an Unplugged set (in '96), had a hit ballad ("No Excuses") and did a Lollapalooza tour ('93).

What Alice In Chains accomplished that was unique or a bit different included selling millions of EPs (Extended Play). Usually, EPs are either loaded with outtakes, second-rate material or used to provide a cheap introduction to a group. Alice In Chains' first release was the five song EP "We Die Young." But the EPs "Sap" and the seven song collection "Jars Of Flies" with "No Excuses" were both artistic and commercial successes. "Jars Of Flies" was recorded in seven days and had the distinction of being the only EP to ever top the Billboard album chart.

Their first full album, "Facelift," had "We Die Young." A live performance at Seattle's Moore Theatre became "Live Facelift" with the CD and film sold together. But their best full length CD was "Dirt," released in '92 with "Rooster" and "Would?" Following "Dirt" bassist Mike Starr left and was replaced by Mike Inez. With "Grind" leading the way "Alice In Chains" appeared in late '95. It went to #1 on the Billboard charts later that year. "Nothing Safe - Best of the Box" was in stores and available on-line in '99.

Staley's downward spiral became apparent as he became increasingly reclusive. His appearance, a symptom of his drug addled state, declined. After no one had heard from Staley for over two weeks police, accompanied by family members, went to Staley's condo. The singer was found on a couch with the TV flickering and drugs and drug paraphernalia scattered around the room. According to the medical examiner's report, Staley had been dead for two weeks and determined he had passed away on April 5th, '02, after injecting a "speedball" (a combination of heroin and cocaine).

Alice In Chains had come to a halt before Staley's death but his passing seemed the final note. But eventually the band was able to resurrect itself. Alice In Chains enlisted vocalist William DuVall as Staley's replacement and launched an '06 tour. "I've joined a group that has a strong identity and a strong legacy," said DuVall. "Nobody . . . wants to, in any way, disrespect or sully that legacy. You want to add to it."

In October, '08, Alice In Chains entered the Foo Fighters' Studio 606 in L.A. with producer Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, 3 Doors Down, Shadows Fall). Recording concluded on guitarist Jerry Cantrell's 43rd birthday (3/18/09). The following month Cantrell revealed that the band was "just about done" mixing the album. He said the comeback disc offered "everything from the darkest of dark . . . to acoustic stuff."

With the album in the can, Cantrell appeared at A Road To Recovery benefit concert in New York with Rage Against The Machines' Tom Morello and Jane's Addiction singer Perry Farrell. The foundation is dedicated to helping young people battle addiction and other ills by leveraging the influence of entertainment industry professionals who have confronted similar crises.

The renewed interest in Alice In Chains no doubt led to Itch, Love Stories About Heroin, author Tanya Vece's biography of Staley's life and tragic death. "The perception that he was just this junkie who got caught up in the music business, that's not it at all," said Vece, the eldest daughter of Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx. "I want people to know Layne for who he really was."

In recognition of both Alice In Chains legacy and continued popularity, both Rock Band Unplugged and Madden NFL 10 featured Alice In Chains songs.

Just weeks prior to the release of "Black Gives Way To Blue" the group kicked-off a comeback North American club tour in Washington, D.C

"Black Gives Way To Blue, featuring the singles, "A Looking In View," "Check My Brain" and "Your Decision" dropped in September, '09, eleven months after the project began. "These songs {on the album} will strike a chord and make a similar impact on all of you out there that were moved by this band in the first place," said a band blog.

The title track, a tribute to Staley, had Elton John on piano. "[I] wrote Elton an e-mail explaining that it's a real, raw open-hearted song for Layne," said Cantrell. "He thought [the track] was beautiful and that he wanted to play on it. We were blown away."

For the Stephen Schuster directed "Your Decision" clip the band performed in a Malibu mansion. The video also featured a cameo from Project Runway season 3 model, Amanda Fields. "The band members . . . were fun to work with and the director had such an incredible vision," she wrote on Project Runway's blog.

There are just a few songs that have immediately become part of the Rock vernacular - U2's "New Year's Day," Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and Green Day's "Holiday." The second single from "Black Gives Way To Blue," "Check My Brain," made the short list. Written by Cantrell, the self-referential track dealt with being a recovering addict who moved from Seattle to L.A. - into the "heart of the (drug culture) beast." It topped the Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks, AIC's first #1 on that survey since '94's "No Excuses." The song was also nominated for a Grammy in the Best Hard Rock Performance category but didn't win. In yet another Grammy snub, that honor went to Them Crooked Vultures. As a result, Alice In Chains became the act with the most Grammy nominations (8) to never win an award.

Even so, few 'comeback' albums were as successful as "Black Gives Way To Blue." Within seven months the album was certified gold - selling over 500,000 copies in the U.S. and over a million worldwide.

Undercutting Alice In Chains triumphant return was news that Starr had been found dead (on 3/8/11) in his Salt Lake City home. Drugs were linked to the 44-yrear-old musician's demise though there was uncertainty as to whether it was due to a combination of methadone and anxiety medication or two different types of antidepressants. There was a public memorial at the Seattle Center's International Fountain twelve days later.

Alice In Chains seemed to drop off the radar again until word came the group was working on their second post-Staley set.

When would it be out? "Whenever we're done," Cantrell said cryptically. "We'll do some writing. Hopefully we'll have it out next year ('12). We'll put it out when we feel that it's worth putting out."

But it was '13 before Alice In Chains issued their fifth album, "The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here." "It's got all the elements of any record we've put out, but it's unlike any record we've put out," explained Cantrell.

"The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here," debuted at #2 on the Billboard 200 (behind Daft Punk's "Random Access Memories"). The band's fifth studio album sold 62,000 copies in its first week of release.

Just days later, Alice In Chains picked up the Icon honor as an undisputed legend at the 2013 Golden God Awards in London.



Alice In Chains members have had major outside projects. Staley was in the Gracy Gang with Pearl Jam's Mike McCready, among others. That group evolved into Mad Season. Cantrell released a solo CD "Boggy Depot." The CD had contributions from both drummer Sean Kinney and Inez. Cantrell also recorded "I've Seen All This World I Care To See" for the Willie Nelson tribute CD "Twisted Willie." For the same project Kinney recorded "Time Of The Preacher" with Johnny Cash. Inez briefly did time in Slash's Snake Pit.

Taking a break from Alice In Chains' '09 comeback Cantrell and Scott Ian (Anthrax) launched a Las Vegas bar called Dead Man's Hand (which is a pair of aces and 8s in clubs and spades - so named because that was what Wild Bill Hickok was when he was murdered on 08/02/1876).

"I always wanted to have a cool joint with some friends that would be a great place to go at night," said Cantrell. "It's close to Los Angeles, and a lot of cool bands and people hit Vegas."


Alice In Chains Discography

Albums:

1990 Facelift
1992 Dirt
1995 Alice In Chains
2009 Black Gives Way To Blue
2013 The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here

EPs:

1990 We Die Young
1992 Sap
1994 Jar Of Flies

Live Albums:

1996 MTV Unplugged
2000 Live

Alice In Chains touched all the bases. But given Layne Staley's songs, so often reflecting his personal struggles, nothing was ever by the numbers.

"Music Bank" has demos (fun for fans), a live track, remixes, unplugged versions and "No Excuses." For the fan with limited resources the band was thoughtful enough to release "Nothing Safe-Best of the Box."

Listening to Alice In Chains it's evident that "Dirt" and the EP "Jar of Flies" are essential. On "Dirt," the group's hard-edged Grunge/Metallic sound hits home with "Would?" (which also found its way onto the "Singles" soundtrack), "Junkhead" and "Rooster." The "Jar of Flies" EP has "No Excuses" but it also has a lighter, more cohesive feeling.

"Alice In Chains" with "Grind," "Heaven Beside You" and "Brush Away" is another strong album. The unplugged set is for those who favor acoustic versions of Rock songs - namely the pop market.

The comeback album, "Black Gives Way Blue" answers a couple of questions. The "can DuVall replace Staley" one dominates. Of course, DuVall is not Staley but he's' a good singer and has been in Alice In Chains for a couple of years. No worries. Next.

"Is there a "No Excuses?" Not really, but "All Secrets Known" comes the closest.

"Black Gives Way Blue" does show Cantrell's genius and vitality. That is most evident with his "sick" guitar on "Check My Brain" - an incredible song. Alice In Chains can still do Grunge and do it remarkably well. Check out "A Looking In View" and "Take Her Out." Then they just kick it out on "Lesson Learned." A lot was made of the Staley tribute title track. Elton John can hardly be blamed for this but the song does feel a bit like "Candle In The Wind." The acoustic ballads "Your Decision" and "When The Sun Rose" are better.

Those knocked out by "Black Gives Way To Blue" will feel an affinity for "The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here" since it's nearly a replica. The album has "Pretty Done," a take on "Check My Brain" and two variants of "Your Decision" - "Voices" and "Choke."

"The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here" is a bit slower and denser than its predecessor. That's evident right away on the set opener "Hallow," a Heavy Metal Grunge track likely there to prove AIC can still do it. It's hard to understand why it was the lead track when there are a trio of songs ("Low Ceiling," "Breath On The Window" and "Scalpel") that are less heavy but far more powerful.



 

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