on April 20, 2005
Alice In Chains sophomore album "Dirt," stands as the band's most popular and most critically acclaimed album. "Dirt" stands alongside Nirvana's "Nevermind", Pearl Jam's "Ten" and Soundgarden's "Badmoterfinger" as an essential album of the grunge era. Much like "Ten" "Badmoterfinger" and "Nevermind," "Dirt" was an album that many inferior bands, i.e., Godsmack, borrowed from. Although the Seattle group was categorized as a grunge band, they were also distinctly a metal band, although they did write a fair amount of acoustic material.
"Dirt" is one of the most powerful, genuinely harrowing, intense, depressing albums of all-time. Some singers are very contrived and put on an act, a fake pain or rage (like Gavin Rosdale or Fred Durst). But with "Dirt," when you listen to these songs, you can hear the pain in singer Layne Staley's voice. These songs were written by someone who was at absolute rock bottom. The themes of the album-drug addiction, loss, depression, regret, nihilism, hopelessness, come across as so real that this album is somewhat difficult to listen to. What makes this album especially sad is the knowledge that Staley would eventually succumb to his drug addiction.
Although the nature of this album and its frontman is heartbreaking, there is no denying the greatness of the band and these songs. Layne Staley and guitarist Jerry Cantrell were one of the best, if not best, guitar/singer teams from the 90s. The 60s had Jagger/Richards, the 70s had Perry/Tyler, the 80s had Slash/Rose, and the 90s had Staley/Cantrell.
Staley's voice is eerie, powerful, and hauntingly beautiful. It's not so much the dark lyrics that make these songs so powerful, it's the way Staley delivers them. These songs sound lived in.
Cantrell's playing on this album is simply terrific. Each song has a terrific, intense riff, and one or two killer solos. These songs are instantly catchy and memorable. The songs combined the sludgy guitars and riffs of Black Sabbath, and the beauty and melody of the Beatles. Bassist Mike Starr and Drummer Sean Kinney provided an exciting and dynamic rhythm section.
Although there were several singles and radio staples from this album, I feel that this album is best appreciated when listened to as a whole. There isn't any filler and each song is essential to the flow and cohesiveness of the album. The album starts out with "Them Bones," and the listener is immediately thrown into the hell that Staley is feeling. "Damn that River" is another powerful, no-holds-bar up-tempo metal song. "Rain When I Die," is more mid-tempo, but just as intense. "Down in a Hole," one of the album's slower songs, sounds like a man who has been struggling personal demons in vain, and has finally given up all hope of ever being free. The somewhat offbeat "Sickman" has an almost insane feel. The soft-spoken "Rooster" is an ode to Cantrell's father, and tells the story of his embittered return home from the Vietnam War. "Rooster" is one of the finest radio staples from the 1990s. "Junkhead" tells the story of the depths that drugs take the user. It shows how everything becomes irrelevant once the user is addicted. The sludgy title track "Dirt" tells how despondent Staley feels. This is probably one of the bleakest songs ever recorded. "God Smack" (the title of which inspired the third-rate rip-off) rocks hard and is what the band Godsmack could only dream of creating. "Iron Gland" is a non-song that helps break the pace and gives the listener a little reprieve from the very intense CD. The album comes back and closes with the mid-tempo "Hate to Feel", the infectious "Angry Chair," and the radio staple "Would?"
Despite the fact that most of these songs are hard-rockers, none sound similar and the album never gets monotonous. Each song is carefully crafted and meticulously delivered.
Even though "Dirt" doesn't get the recognition and praise as some of its contemporaries, it is easily just as inflectional and as well constructed. And although many inferior bands tried to copy the Alice In Chains sound, there was only one Alice In Chains. "Dirt" is a masterpiece and sounds as fresh and invigorating today as it did in 1992. It is an essential album from the early 90s and is a cornerstone to a modern rock collection.
on April 28, 2000
I don't even want to know how many times I've listened to this album, all the way through, and then when it was over played it again. This was the first I ever heard Alice in Chains (thanks to my cousin playing "Rooster" for me) and I immediately put the album on my NEED TO BUY list back in early 1994. Being forbidden MTV by my parents and really having no previous interest in radio this album sparked my love of music into a virtual inferno! This was the first cd I ever bought, and for that alone I love it. But all the songs are a powerful offspring of potent lyrics and chillingly talented musicians. Jerry Cantrell's playing is surreal and Layne Staley's singing is startling enough to puncture the soul. The first song "Them Bones" is one of my favorites, highly introspective. The second, "Dam That River" is an excellent play on words. "Rain When I Die" is haunting enough to put on repeat itself. "Down In A Hole" is a sad, self-aware song that screams for the memorization of its lyrics and pertinence when just a little bit down. "Sickman" took me awhile to like, (maybe 3 seconds as opposed to the instantaneous reaction I had to the previous 4 songs) but is now a staple of my music listening experience. "Rooster" well, this is what started it all for me. I don't think I'll ever get sick of listening to this song and I've even been known to tell people to shut the hell up while it's playing on the radio. "Junk Head" is blatantly about drug use and about criticising things and people alike without bothering to find out both sides. "Dirt" the song for which the album is named has a really crazy sound to it and is like a mid-album spike into a harder tone. "God Smack" is another song that took me a while to get used to but which I now love. The untitled screams and shouts on the tenth track always seemed to me like a short eavesdropping on the denizens of hell. "Hate To Feel" is a great anti-depressant when you feel alone, because it's quite obvious that Layne Staley has felt the futility of depression. "Angry Chair" is another dark song, presumably dealing with apathy. Last, but not least, is "Would?" which has had fans of Alice in Chains asking themselves "what the hell is this about?" ever since it first got airtime on the radio, but not without them latching onto it as a fan favorite. Now of course no music album is worth anything if it doesn't entertain, and whether you receive any message from the lyrics or not Dirt will definitely do that. An essential album for any child of the 1990's from one of the best bands to come on the scene during that decade. One of, if not the best band out of Seattle. If you like this check out their other albums "Facelift" (their first album), "Sap" (really short), "Jar of Flies", "Alice in Chains" (three-legged dog on the album cover), and their "Unplugged" album.
on May 31, 2001
Alice in Chains is sorely missed. They certainly left their mark on the nineties - I really can't think of a better heavy metal band. This album, Dirt, is their major artistic statement. And Layne Staley, their lead singer, certainly has more than his share of demons to exorcise. Except Alice in Chains never lapses into pompous, self-absorbed angst like Nine Inch Nails or the Smashing Pumpkins. Staley's voice perfectly conveys the despair he sings about, and its grittiness and roughness only serves to enhance the feeling.
It is said that this album is mainly about Staley's heroin abuse. Assuredly some songs are - "God smack" and "Junkhead" are obvious ones. Others may have nothing to do with drugs at all, but still maintain the mood of despair of a hopeless, almost lifeless addict. Despite all that, Staley's voice and his tone of resignation often has almost a comforting effect - this is one of the best albums to help one through depression. To be sure, this album has quite a few really rockin' rockers - "God smack", "Dam that River", etc., but it also has subtlety. An enduring quality pervades many songs, even where it has no place - "Rooster" is about an American soldier, about to be killed by a Vietnamese sniper, completely outgunned, and yet when the song's done the listener gets a hopeful feeling, as if he'd just heard a survival story. The album ends with the menacing, soul-wrenching "Would?", which still carries the same, almost foolhardy feeling of hope. The best moments are "Rain When I Die", "Down in a Hole", and the aforementioned "Rooster" and "Would?".
One final note - it seems that a bunch of people like to put down AiC and call them a "Godsmack ripoff". Allow me to clue you in - Alice in Chains were in the early nineties, and Dirt was made in 1992. They were also good. Godsmack released their first album in 1997, and nothing they ever made even comes close to Staley's feeling and passion. Godsmack got their name from the Alice in Chains song, not the other way around. Thank you.
on April 24, 2004
The early 90's was a great time for music, no matter what type of music you were into; If you liked hip hop, you had Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube. If you liked R&B you had Mary J. Blige, Jodeci and R. Kelly. If you liked hard rock and metal, you have Metallica, Pantera, Faith No More,the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Megadeth and Anthrax to name a few, But they are all dwarfed by the beautiful new style of rock knows as "grunge". And all of those bands had their own niche about them; Nirvana was about angst and alienation, Pearl Jam was the socially conscious ones, Stone Temple Pilots was the performance art band and Soundgarden was the beligerent version of Led Zeppelin. But of all of the prominent bands to come out of that era, nobody really harnessed their potental and abilities, in my opinion, than Alice In Chains. Many bands have taken on Black Sabbath's dark undertone, but few have harnessed itand made it beliveable like AIC did. It all starts with Layne Staley(R.I.P), who's vocals sould like a mixture of gospel wailing and gothic chants;he's no Chris Cornell, but he's certanly no amateur. But Mr. Staley's voice would be a tree falling into the forest without the fabulous rhythm section he was blessed to team up with. Guitarist Jerry Cantrell takes from Kirk Hammett as he does Tommy Iommi; though he's not as breathtaking as Kirk or innovative as say, Tom Morello or Dimebag Darrell, the lead parts are amazing. Staley and Cantrell are an intresting pair; no bands of recent memory have used harmony as they've used melody; you might call them the Lennon and McCartney of grunge. Bassist Mike Inez,
always said, was the second best bass player of the 90's , right behind Flea(Flea's my boy!) and one over Jason Newsted(Metallica's gonna miss him). Drummer Sean Kinney is
also great, though he's no Chad Smith or Vinnie Paul. They balance each other out perfectly, which is evident on "Dirt". It starts with the somewhat playful "Them Bones", and takes a more serious tone with "Down In A Hole"(which could have well been a gospel or R&B song), "Rain When I Die", "Junkhead", "Damn That River" and "Sickman". There's "Rooster", which is a recounting of Jerry Cantrell's father's tour of duty in Vietnam; it ranks with Black Sabbath's "War Pigs", Guns N'Roses" Civil War" and Metallica's "One" with songs dealing with that subject. "Angry Chair" and "Godsmack"(which created a second rate band of the same name, as you know) serve as the warmup for my favorite song...
"Would", which was on the soundtrack for the the movie "Singles"(mediocre movie,KILLER soundtrack) is one of my favorite songs of ANY musical genre; while Guns N'Roses "Welcome To The Jungle" is best album opener in recent rock history, "Would" is the best album closer. "Dirt" is the ultimate creative testament to a band at its peak, and that should still be making music today. Get up a big ol' pile of them bones!
on May 25, 2006
I thought you all may enjoy this little story....I was reading these reviews for one of the BEST bands ever when I ran across the idiotic statement made by "I love fall out boy". People should NOT comment on things they don't know about. It's annoying to those of us who do. Godsmack, of course, picked their name from the AIC song... however the irony in this whole thing is that as I was reading these comments today I thought the TRUE die hard AIC fans might enjoy the fact that I am wearing my Layne Staley memorial T-sheet that I purchased at the beach this year! In addition, and here is the irony, about 2 weeks ago I took my 15 year old daughter and 3 friends to see Fallout Boy, From First to Last, All American Rejects, and Hawthorne Heights. My daughter made me wear the Layne Staley t-shirt!!! I received many, many comments... Ironic huh??! Love to Layne and the remaining members of Alice in Chains!! P.S. I'm a rockin' 42 year old mom.
on July 17, 2001
C'mon people when Layne asks the question : What's my drug of choice in the song Junkhead were we really surprised to hear him answer: well what have you got? This is just a sample of the dark and tormented cries you'll be subjected to while hearing this recording, I think I'm right to say it was the darkest album of the decade, maybe ever. Dirt gives you everything a great rock or metal record should : amazing guitar work, powerful drum beats and that pounding bass. Layne's voice is unique (just like OZzy's heh heh) and listening to him sing about his heroin addiction song after song touches me deeply and it hurts. The album opener is Them Bones, a heavy track that will get you banging your head in no time, followed by Damn that River another great tune, hold on a sec this album is about to get awhole lot darker. Rain when I die, Sickman, Rooster, Junhead just by reading the titles you know these guys have hurt especially Layne. These guys cam write great songs, just listen to an extract from such songs as Down in a hole :"See my heart I decorate it like a grave", very haunting yet distrubingly beautiful and poetic. Listening to Dirt is even sadder nowadays, Layne's ongoing heroin abuse continued and later on destroyed the band, wich makes the irony of Would? (the album's closer) even greater. The final track asks a simple question, is response to Layne's :"Have I run too far to get home? "(during Would?) my answer is yes, and every AIC fan wishes you the best of luck.
on April 2, 1999
Ever feel dead-pan depressed, terminally lethargic, or slowly drowning in your own bloated apathy? If so I recommend AIC's filthy, gritty, soured masterpiece aptly titled "Dirt." This foray into heroin addiction, self-doubt, and utter societal confusion pillages the soul of all feeling but leaves the listener with a calming empathetic sense of sanguine expectation. This toxic fermentation makes the lowest of low understand the leprous fallacies of life, which slowly nibble away at the very tender fabric of an individual's spirit.
Now for the tunes. Carefully crafted into three sections this tortorous album goes from really bad, to even worse, and then to a state of pseudo-positivity. The opener "Them Bones" relentlessly crushes the skull of any unprepared listener and then quickly shifts into an even higher gear of underappreciation with "Dam That River." The third track "Rain When I Die" emphasizes how truly alone we all are with lyrics like "Is she ready to know my frustration/Slowly fogging my lights/Slow castration." By now my therapy session turns to a complete nightmare as "Sickman" utters a woeful tale of dissillusionment and unforgiven behavior, only to be followed by the Vietnam epic of "Rooster." The next four tracks mark the second part of this intoxicating contorted behemoth. Full blown addiction to chaos (or in Layne Staley's case heroin) pushes a normal person to near suicidal thoughts in these warped accounts of dangerous living and numbs the mind of all trivial distractions that life has to offer (i.e. love, happiness, or understanding). Then, while near the depts of despair, the album shifts to a sketchy and possibly achievable sense of change, healing, and expected recovery from a hellish prison sentence of pain. In the emblazened confession of "Angry Chair," the tormeneted addict finally accepts his insanity and screams out "I don't mind yeah, I don't mind/Lost my mind yeah, can't find it anywhere." Coming to grips with this disease is the first step towards redemption and "Down in a Hole" expresses this sentiment even further with beautiful structured lines like "I have been guilty of kicking myself in the teeth" and "I'd like to fly, but my wings have been so denied." The finale, "Would?" is perhaps the most uplifting and melodious of the AIC catalog with phrases like "Am I wrong, have I run too far to get home?/Have I gone, left you here alone?" In an attempt at cleasing his body, mind, and soul of the toxins which afflict his psyche, the half-inebriated Staley makes an offer to be the person that he was before the demons twisted his fragile shell. Whether as a pesonal promise or an attempt at conciliation with a former lover or friend, Would? brilliantly works on multiple levels.
In sum, "Dirt" is a psychological masterwork that documents many of the problems of not just herion addicts but all of those who struggle with self-doubt, pain, rejection, and aimlessness. A serious piece indeed, which stands out as one of the most creative and original albums of the 1990s. Not for the faint-of-heart but still digestable for the masses willing to sound out their problems with the best of the worst.
on February 21, 2004
No one really talks about it much, but the 90's alternative explosion was rooted in heavy metal. It was just covered up. Nirvana claimed a punk tradition, citing The Meat Puppets, Sonic Youth, and The Pixies as influences. Pearl Jam covered their dirty roots with big Who-ish guitars and poppy melodies. The Smashing Pumpkins spent their time in the 80's new wave and goth areas. But Alice in Chains was no-bones about their metal-ness, and in leiu of keeping up pretenses, they pummeled the music industry, their fans, and the radio with bottom-feeding guitars and an iron fist. And in 1992, they went about making their follow-up to "Facelift." "Dirt" remains today their masterpiece and THE definitive early 90's rock/depression experience.
Drugs, self-loathing, death, and war are the biggies here and they don't try to cover any of it up. There are no euphemisms, no suggestions in Layne Staley & Jerry Cantrell's lyrics. They lay it on the line in the same fashion as their heroes Metallica and Black Sabbath did before them. The band had a sort of fear, yet obsession with death-- Layne screaming at the beginning of the album "I believe them bones are me!!" in horror. Jerry pays tribute to his dead uncle, a war casualty in Vietnam, nicknamed "Rooster" by his squad. The fear follows the band into the deepest depths of drug addiction ("Down in a Hole," "Junkhead") through most of the album. And the guitar, bass, and drums are just as desperate and pleading as the subjects they encase (Layne's apocalyptic harmonies on tunes like "Sickman" and "Angry Chair" are especially intreging). The broading "Rain When I Die" has become all the more poignant with Staley gone (RIP Layne). And finally, Alice in Chains give us a last minute gift; perhaps the greatest album closer in all of rock music... "Would?"
So many bands made such a fuss about hiding what their music was; "Seattle sound," "Grunge," "alternative rock," etc etc. No one took the bull by the horns like AIC, and they are missed. We must never forget our metal heritage. Overall: 10 out of 10.
on February 7, 2003
Probably Alice In Chains' greatest album (although Jar Of Flies comes close), Dirt is a harrowing quasi-concept album that chronicles the life of a drug addict. It is the most emotional and darkest album to come out of the Seattle scene, and possibly one of the most depressing albums ever, right up there with Joy Division's Closer.
Like Joy Division's final album, Dirt is almost impossible to listen to at times. Not that it's bad, just the opposite--the lyrics are so insufferably bleak that it'll send some listeners searching for the straight blade. From beginning to end you feel the self-destruction from drug abuse and depression (something that lead singer and guitarist Layne Staley knew all too well). There is no hope, no silver lining to this cloud.
As a band, few Seattle acts approached Alice In Chains' musical talent. Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell take turns at vocals and songwriting, and both do a fantastic job of conveying the darkness and gloom central to this album. As guitarists that took their inspiration from Van Halen and Metallica in technical playing, these guys could put the punkish Kurt Cobain to shame (although Kurt was great in his own right). Together Jerry and Layne lay down dark, sludgy riffs that make Black Sabbath seem almost bubblegum by comparison.
The album as a whole is dominated by doomy chords, sudden uptempo shifts, and unconventional time signatures. Highlights include the startling Them Bones (which causes the listener to jump on first listen), the hard-hitting Dam That River, the bad trip of Rain When I Die and Down In A Hole, the Vietnam epic Rooster (a ode to Cantrell's veteran father), the pitch-black Junkhead (Staley's arguably most confessional song), the creepy Angry Chair, and the dark closer Would? Dirt is a pummeling, brutal album. At the end, the listener is left without a clear resolution. The only emotion shown at the end by the protagonist of Dirt is surrender to his own demons--very powerful indeed.
I can't give this album a five-star rating--filler tracks such as Hate To Feel and the title track prevent me from doing so. Still this ranks as one of the most powerful albums of any era, and is a haunting depiction of Seattle's dark side. Buy it, unless you are a manic-depressive or have any hint of suicidal tendencies. Also buy the acoustic EP Jar Of Flies, which is an essential companion to Dirt and shows a different side to Alice In Chains' sound.
on August 30, 2001
Nearly 10 years (god! Was it that long ago!) since the release of AIC's seminal and compulsive Dirt and the album still retains it's impact. Over the years I've heard many bands try to emulate this album - the harrowing lyrical content, the Sabbath-heavy guitars and jaw-dropping choruses. All so far have not matched the sheer enjoyment of this album, even though it's subject matter touches heroin drug addiction. Along with Superunknown, In Utero and Ten, Dirt defined the Grunge genre. These are still my favourite records in my extensive record collection for which I will always listen to, no matter the musical climate, simply timeless music. All the tracks are worth mentioning:
Them Bones? - What an opening track! Very short and immediately swamps the speakers. Perhaps the most rocking and head-banging friendly AIC song there is. 10/10
Dam That River - Creepy vocals and sludgy sound. The trick ending gets me every time. 8/10
Rain When I Die - I wonder where AIC got their miserable tag from? Well tracks like this are bleak with no light at the end of the tunnel. I love it! 9/10
Down in a Hole - An obvious highpoint, one of the few Dirt tracks to work really well on their MTV Unplugged session. You realize at this point that AIC have made the best album of their career in which they will never top. This album has put me off drugs for life after hearing Layne Stanley's bad experiences. 10/10
Sickman - Irritating on first listen, after repeated plays this gets better. Trust me. Repeat after me - `Sickman, Sickman, Sickman....' 8/10
Rooster - `We've come to snuff the rooster! Yeah!' Another key track along, with Down In A Hole the slow intro builds into an explosive chorus. The music video depicts the horrors of Vietnam to gruesome effect 9/10
Junkhead - One of my favourites, a classic track pure and simple. `What's my drug of choice, well what have you got?' And the unsurprising reply of `I do it a lot!' Really? 10/10
Dirt - The title track lowers the quality control a notch but beats anything off AIC's 1995 self-titled album. 7/10
God Smack - Named after that band? I don't think so, clearly Godsmack were basing their entire career on this album. The metal influences clearly shine through. 8/10
Hate to Feel - A quality track (7/10) but is nothing compared to.......
Angry Chair - This track is amazing! The guitar part compliments Layne's vocals well here. I can never get that stop-start singing in the bridge out of my head after hearing it just once. 10/10
Would? - If I had to name my all-time fav AIC track - this one would be it. Part of the Singles soundtrack and added to Dirt late on, this ends one of the 90s greatest rock albums in some style. 10/10
There you have it. Many references to drugs, AIC's best album (easily) to date and haunting vocal interplay between Cantrell and Stanley - what more do you want from Grunge?