photo & text by nacrowe
the self-titled ALICE IN CHAINS (COLUMBIA, 1995) record was a big deal to me when it came out. i was in NEW JERSEY staying with relatives during the summer of 1996 and i distinctly remember getting the new DOWN ON THE UPSIDE (A&M, 1996) record by SOUNDGARDEN as well as EVIL EMPIRE (EPIC, 1996) by RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE. i also hauled away the entire METALLICA back catalogue (as LOAD had recently been released as well). back then it was all about acquiring CDs to take back home to NIGERIA where my family was living and that was a remarkably great summer in that regard.
looking back, what always struck me about the self-titled ALICE IN CHAINS album was how experimental it was. maybe this was partly the result of LAYNE STALEY's addiction (alluded to at with the album cover art of a dog missing a limb) and thus the lesser concern of having to tour the material. this more surreal sonic vibe can be experienced on songs like "BRUSH AWAY," "NOTHIN' SONG," "GOD AM," "HEAD CREEPS," "FROGS" and "SO CLOSE." a big part of that sound is the trademark layered vocals of STALEY and guitarist JERRY CANTRELL which feels even more pronounced on this record than in the past. this unique production technique would carry over into the WILLIAM DUVALL era and interestingly maintain a sonic cohesion to the discography overall.
lyrically this record seems very much stream-of-consciousness with themes regarding guilt, shame and death carrying throughout in songs like "OVER NOW," "HEAVEN BESIDE YOU," "BRUSH AWAY" and "SHAME IN YOU." much like with listening to albums by NIRVANA, JOY DIVISION and even LINKIN PARK, it is difficult to divorce this record from the untimely death of the singer and primary lyricist. when i listen to the ALICE IN CHAINS album (and i am definitely projecting here), it makes me get a feel for what the headspace of someone struggling with a profound sense of diminished identity when their agency is compromised. and all the guilt, shame and ideations of death that come with such. i just cant imagine but i attempt to empathize every time i hear this record. it really is quite the gift STALEY left behind with his ALICE IN CHAINS output.
rest in peace LAYNE.