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Alice in Chains – Sap [EP]

August 7, 2006


With all due respect, Alice in Chains was a grunge powerhouse. They produced hit after hit and stayed on good terms with their fans, and not many other grunge bands could do that as sucessfully as they did. Maybe Soundgarden did it a little more sucessfully, but Pearl Jam turned fans off and Nirvana had an early end. In any case, Alice in Chains also fizzled out around the time Soundgarden did when Layne Staley went into drug enduced seclusion. But even then, the remaining members of Alice in Chains still produced a solo album with Jerry Cantrell. So at least three members know when they have something good going.

Which explains why Alice in Chains is touring again now. Granted, they are missing their star singer Layne Staley, who died in 2002. But I guess they aren’t letting that dampen their spirits too much, because they hired this guy named William DuVall to sing for them on the rest of their tour. And they are still acting like they are twenty somethings, albeit with a little more sophistication and expertise, but they are still getting all sweaty and riled up on stage, which is something that you would have expected them to do twenty years ago. Hell, they even called out Billy Corgan to sing Down in a Hole in Seattle, where they did a free show too. A free show? For Alice in Chains? Now that’s REALLY something they would have done twenty years ago. It’s interesting to hear the news, really. I haven’t and probably won’t be able to get to any of the shows myself, but I hear they are really cool arena rock gigs that are doing Layne justice instead of disrespecting him. That’s good.

But that really causes me to ask the question, will there be another Alice in Chains album? Yeah, solo albums are great and I’m still getting over Degredation Trip, but for as capable of a song writer as Jerry Cantrell is, I think the other band members bring out the best in him. Laynes gone, and I’m going to stop complaining about that. It’s too late to do anything, so bitching about how it’s really not Alice in Chains is stupid. OK, fine, then how about we have these four guys get together and call themselves Alice, or The Chains? That doesn’t sound like a bad idea to me. Hell, it just gives them something to do. And considering they are already screwing around on tour, why not just get them together and make them feel like they are twenty years younger even more? These guys were boozing and picking up chicks twenty years ago, and playing small clubs for chump change. I say make them do that for a few months and see what demos surface.

I was at Barnes and Noble again browsing the CD section (I don’t even know why I buy CDs at Barnes and Noble. It’s just stupid.) when I found this EP. I had been looking for it for some time. No libraries seem to have it at all unfortunately, which is understandable because it is an EP that was made fifteen years ago. Even at the steep price of ten dollars, I had to have this even if it only contains five songs. I think it was worth it.

Alice in Chains actually released two EPs in their career, and both of them are largely accoustic and relatively short. This is the first of the two EPs, and while it may not be quite as good as their second EP, Jar of Flies, it’s still a solid little collection of songs. It came out maybe a year or so after Facelift, which was quite the hit in the Seattle underground, and this is a pretty big contrast from the mixture of 80s sounding rock and alternative. The mood is melancholy, and it sort of points towards the rest of the bands career, almost signposting what is to come later on the Jar of Flies EP. There are actually five songs on the album, but only four can be taken seriously enough to be considered even on the EP. The fifth song is filler, an obnoxious little track known by some as “Love Song” that is actually not even refferenced on the back of the album or even named. It’s a bit of stupid Halloween goo, so it’s not really worth noting.

But the other four songs are very interesting. Brother is a sad tune that Nutshell would later be reminiscent of. The lyrics are beautiful and mysterious, and for the first time (I think, unless there is some backup vocal work on Facelift I’m forgetting), Jerry Cantrells voice is in the forefront while Layne Staley harmonizes an octave up. The two make a really good vocal team, and it’s a good thing that Layne was polite enough to move over when need be on AiCs more quiet tracks. This song along with the next one would appear later on with the bands accoustic Unplugged concert in 1996, which is where I first heard this song. It’s a pretty good live album, I would reccomend giving it a spin if you are an Alice in Chains fan.

Got Me Wrong is probably the most popular tune from the EP, and it has a shocking contrast from Brother. When I think about it, it might be the most positive song the band has ever made, and it almost makes a little sense considering it was made before the bands negative minor tonalities got set in stone with Dirt and s/t. It was actually featured in the movie Clerks which came out around this time. The song is classic positive grunge really, and it reflects the easygoing nature of the movies twenty somethings. Sometimes you just gotta be yourself and have a little fun, maybe play a little hocky on the roof. It’s a great song, and the accoustic version on Unplugged is equally as enjoyable and fun.

The next song, Right Turn, is another more melancholy tune, but it plays with a little more groove. This song actually features a myriad of vocalists, a few of which are special guests. First off Jerry Cantrell takes the wheel with some gentle words, then Chris Cornell of Soundgarden takes the reigns, then Layne Staley, then grunge hero Mark Arm of Mudhoney, followed by a grand combination of all four. I often wonder how each of the grunge bands in Seattle thought of one another, and when it all comes down to it, I think they all got along fairly well, in some kind of strange way. Yes, Nirvana and Pearl Jam were rivals, but Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder slowdanced, and you will often hear kind words come out of Eddies voice about Nirvana. Same with Soundgarden. While Kurt Cobain may have sworn not to like the band, he had a minor obcession with them in his earlier days, and Chris Cornells favorite album on Sub Pop was Bleach. Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder were both involved in Temple of the Dog, and Matt Cameron, a member of Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and Temple of the Dog was a Nirvana roadie for a little while. Mudhoney and Nirvana were tight, and then we hear both Mark Arm and Chris Cornell featured with Alice in Chains. In retrospect, for how much competition there was between the bands, there seems to be some kind of harmony.

The main body of the EP closes with Am I Inside, which exudes large amounts of paranoia and fear, and then some brief lazy happiness, and the cycle repeats itself. While this EP really only points towards Jar of Flies, it’s a good little collection of songs that the band got out, and it shows how diverse the bands tastes and songwriting ability is, even early on. 1992 was a big year for Alice in Chains, and while this is a good EP, it was far blown out of the water with the grand haunting symphony that was Dirt which had an October release, just in time for Halloween. It’s a good EP, and if you can pick it up, it’s well worth it. But make sure you eventually get the stronger EP, Jar of Flies. Both are good, and if you can get them packaged together, even better. Honestly, they could have been compiled onto one disk and it would be a near perfect but slightly rough flowing disk.

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