October 2, 2009

Review: Alice In Chains - Black Gives Way to Blue

Grade 10 and a schoolmate hands me a cassette tape--one of the new, clear kinds that allow you the benign pleasure of watching the ribbon unwind from one spool and load up another. Facelift by Alice in Chains. I played that bastard until the tape warped. By the time Dirt came out, they were my faves and all subsequent releases only solidified this. Why? Their dirge-like power chords, the sorrowful harmonies, the fucking wretched sick that was Staley's voice. How often does one get to listen to a band where the singer's voice actually physically embodies the misery he sings about?

Staley's Death:
Expected but tragic nonetheless. I remember phoning my wife at work when it happened, just to talk. I was gutted, feeling like I lost some of my own identity with music--silly as that sounds. Spent the day playing the old albums quietly and writing. I remembered when John Lennon was shot and the hush that came over the parents of my friends. Wondered if my own petty responses were of the same ilk.

The New Album:

When I heard mutterings this was going to happen I thought I couldn't listen to it. No reason to. But I caught clips of the music from time to time, the fat hooks, the familiar harmonies. I got excited about it all and now, CD in hand, I've cruised through the tracks on Black Gives Way to Blue twice.

It's good, really good. Ethereal, gliding, moody as hell. Beautiful sound, outstanding harmonies. Parts of the album border on greatness--especially the ones where all you can do is imagine Layne's voice singing, as if the melodies are rightfully his (which they are not, of course). It's a bit tragic, really, and I think this is a significant, though understandable, problem.

William Duvall has a good voice; good control, nice range. But it doesn't always come out on this CD. The vocal tracks often sound over-produced, I suspect in an attempt to try and re-create a Staley-esque type of aesthetic. The whole album isn't like this, only a few tracks. Perhaps it makes sense, as this is a segue album to a potentially new era for the band. But on the other hand, it's unnecessary.

Cantrell has always written most of the songs, the band really being more a product of his talents than Layne's--and I say this not to downplay Staley, whose voice was and is the most haunting and beautiful thing I've ever heard. But I don't think his death necessitates the end of the band's sound, nor do I think they need to try too hard to recreate it on their new albums. Cantrell's song writing brings out the familiar AIC sound. Duvall's voice should be new and inviting--which it often is. But not always.

I will say this: Duvall is the right replacement. His voice is congruous with the music, works with it, sounds professional without any bombast.

I can't remember the last time I ventured into a music store with the excitement only brought to a person who knows exactly why they've walked through the door--and for what. All the shit I hear on the radio today--my sad recognition that I'm no longer on the up and up when it comes to current music. Today is different. A nostalgic grail, the sounds of the greatest era of music for my generation, the kind that puts an ache in my chest--just a little.

Did I mention I also purchased a new flannel shirt?


Raz said...

100% concur.
I heard remnants of his sound in a few tracks (first track being one example). Haunting.
I still feel that gut-ache when I think of how he died. Such a tortured voice.
Not sure why Staley and this band grab me more than any other band has.

We drove to Chilliwack for the CD as it was sold out in Abbotsford. I felt that same excitement driving out there!

YEAH flannel shirts!

harpoon said...

I've been listening for a couple weeks now. It's creepy as he sounds like a dead ringer for Staley at times.

I like it, not sure if I love it yet. I would've liked to hear a bit more of an evolution in the band's sound but the songwriting is solid with a few hooks hidden in there.

Have you ever heard Cantrell's solo disc? It was so-so.

Harry Tournemille said...

Yeah, Cantrell did two solo albums: Boggy Depot, which I loved at the time, and then Degradation Trip which fell flat for me, save for a few tracks.

Anonymous said...

Love the new album, and while nothing could replace layne. Duvall does a good job. like you i felt that sometimes the vocals are a bit over produced, but hey, im just glad to finally have some new AIC to listen too