The comeback that many thought would never happen
Band members may come and go but none are more pivotal than vocalists. For legendary Alice in Chains frontman Layne Staley, his signature vocal croon coupled with that of guitarist (and one time solo artist) Jerry Cantrell defined Alice In Chains in every way. That’s not to belittle the band’s rock solid rhythm section of bassist Mike Inez and drummer Sean Kinney in the slightest. Together, the whole was truly greater than the sum of the parts and for three studio albums and one stunning MTV Unplugged performance, Alice in Chains sounded like no other.
When Staley died in 2002, Alice in Chains was put to rest. Or so it seemed. Few never suspected that this seminal band would rise again but sure enough, Cantrell, Inez and Kinney recruited new vocalist William DuVall and the band put the critics to rest as they began to return to the live circuit in 2005. Four years on and the unbelievable has happened – we have a new Alice In Chains album. It’s a tough ask for any band to add to such a legacy but Alice In Chains have truly done that legacy proud.
From the opening strains of All Secrets Known and its fitting opening line, “Hope, A new beginning…”, Alice in Chains are back. Cantrell’s haunting vocals and the band’s brilliant song writing are as strong as every, particularly on the truly brilliant Check My Brain. If that song doesn’t stick in your head, then you need your head read. It is undoubtedly a modern day classic Alice in Chains track. But it’s Last of My Kind that DuVall really makes his first big appearance. Whilst he’s not a Staley clone either good or bad, he’s stamp is there and it’s truly fitting of what we’d expect of the band and the song is just brilliant. The gentler Your Decision (and also When the Sun Rose Again) is the typical Alice in Chains acoustic lead ballad before the band shift into a heavier gear with A Looking in View which shows the band in full flight and in fine form too.
Acid Bubble boils just beneath the surface (pun intended) whilst the rockin’ Lessons Learned really shifts into gear and is reminiscent of not only Cantrell’s later day solo material but also the band’s work as well as is the simple rocker, Take Her Out. Private Hell’s pedestrian pace shows the band is comfortable with a slower approach to things compared to up tempo rockers like We Die Young (from 1990’s Facelift) or Dam That River (from 1992’s Dirt), and the closing title track, Black Gives Way to Blue (which features none other than Elton John tickling the ivories) reinforces that.
Whilst Nirvana ended with the death of Kurt Cobain, bands like AC/DC and Joy Division (who became New Order) clearly proved that they can survive the passing of their vocalist. Add to that list Alice in Chains. Whilst their fourth long player, Black Gives Way to Blue won’t threaten Facelift or Dirt, it does show that the group are not done yet and there is more to come, and I for one can’t wait to hear it. This is just what the doctor ordered.
(Virgin Records/EMI Music Australia)