And don't call them Shirley.
"What a clever post title. You're a genius."
Here, put these on. I promise I won't turn it up too loud.
'tis tricky business reviewing an album, this one more than most. We begin as always with the interplay of chords and harmonies; words and melodies; and from the complex web of experience and personal emotional archetypes that can be spoken to with success by select third party creators alone, memories freshly born. All of these attempt to thread this difficult alchemy sans fin into the Great Work of simple pleasure. As for Alice In Chains the band, those of you, like me, that are hardcore fans -- the soundtrack cliché? I like to think of music as the fuel to the mental processes, and I give a fuck about this album's potential capacity to burn -- know the post-Layne historical score. Of the rest of you, 90% don't care, and the other 10% can surf the tubes yourselves. Rehashing old news? What do I look like, print media? The fact that this album ever got made is grounds for celebration. The fact that this album is a motherfucker is grounds for summoning the gods themselves for one crazy bacchanalia, Olympian wheelbarrows full of the finest wines and filet mignon and chips and dips and hot pantsed chicks and partying like it's 2011 before Quetzalcoatl smokes us into oblivion, unless we do it to ourselves first, go, homo sapiens, go.
"Hope, a new beginning/time, time to start living/like just before we died" croons a volume full of All Secrets Known -- and there's a new one or two -- a deliciously somber, teasingly atonal riff slow motion, two steps back in pitching, pitchy sadness, a wonderfully simple compositional legerdemain wielded against the elements, the clouded heavens that sputter and tumble as if stricken by the black sun, yet manage to strive through. A wickedly atmospheric track that immediately conjures up all kinds of long-occulted impressions seen, for the first time, in a new light. Now that's how you introduce an album.
Then a quintessentially grimy Alice hook fumbles along, drunken tendons and sinews Check My Brain, propped up by harmonizing puppets, fuck, this is catchy as flypaper hell, a real craw sticker. Oh, California's alright, apparently. What, no mention of Ohio? Fuck you, Seattle. Fine, all is forgiven, 'cause this album is positively saturated in exquisite vocal harmonies gleefully spattered like self-sacrifice on the studio wall.
A thick swipe of Facelift metal blitzing, Last of My Kind is the first presentation of William DuVall as primary vocalist, a lower register, if less creepy, Layne Staley, and relax, punters. I've seen the dude live twice with Jerry and he brings it, as does the sickly incredible Your Decision, mellow rainy day mood sliced from the veins of Brother, Castaway, No Excuses, Siddhartha, flush with melodic flourishes hither and yon whose crisp, soothing deception bubbles and crashes around stony sentinels that warn of painful downhill whitewater. As much as I worship at the altar of the power chord, when there's an acoustic Alice stunner like this, I must admit, my faith wavers ever so slightly.
Spiraling rabbit hole sludge, rubberband riffs pull, stretch the limit of A Looking In View, so grab that jar of marmalade, Miss Liddell, it ain't empty this time. Some wags have bickered about the meandering coda. Do you dig noodling or no? I do, so gorge and crash. Afterward, When the Sun Rose Again, her gentle sorrow revitalizes, her grey dawn permeates flesh with acoustic, Sap-py ease, tabla grazing, too. I'm glad I don't have an editor, he/she/it would make me rewrite this entire review, but I'm so fucking happy that this album is exceeding even my expectations, akin to the Browns winning three whole games this season, I wouldn't even notice the professionally scathing memo's magical transformation into a makeshift basketball. Three!
Next, Acid Bubble schizophrenia, autumnal intrigue, a textual reading recalling Grind, musically, too, then the 'I can't wait to hear this fucker live' sledgehammer-from-Hades heavy riff -- Sunshine and flip the tempos -- grafted on before the haunted opener reprises, echoes the band's stylistic branches once more under a tasty Jerry solo -- surprisingly, one of the album's very few personal showcases -- and outro rip into Lesson Learned, a chugging, appealing excursion to that damned river by a side trip through a tribe of chemicals. Aren't I clever.
Take Her Out takes an askew, languid yet toe-tapping stab at mutant power pop, something that wouldn't have sounded out of place on the debut, tracked by a Private Hell and her subdued, stealthy construction, the earthbound, dreamy stepchild of Down In A Hole and, lastly, the title track, ladies and gentlemen, Sir Elton John on piano. Yes, it's about Layne Staley, yes, it's a beautiful song. Sparse, surprisingly short, given past extended lamentations such as Frogs and 31/32, but an unqualified success.
Look, righteous skeptics, from a songwriting standpoint, this album wasn't going to suck, and that ain't the label's press release talking. Really, Jerry Cantrell hasn't forgotten how to pen a tune in the years since Alice's golden age. The brilliant, criminally ignored Degradation Trip anyone, or didn't you buy it, fair-weather chump? And Mike Inez and Sean Kinney haven't forgotten how to be a now-dexterous, now-thunderous rhythm section. Granting the issue of whether tune quality matches past imprints on an pure aesthetic level -- supply your own diluting/concentrating turmoil -- it was always going to be the drama surrounding the new guy, and how far up or down the ladder you stand, how much baggage you're toting under the bridge. Would he fit in? Should he even be allowed to fit in how dare you sully misty watercolor memories, what about Layne you greedy, heartless bastards, the band should stay dead and buried, yabba dabba doo, like watching a talking hairpiece marathon on cable, my head hurts. So, is it, in fact, a Great Work?
The darkness remains tangible, the mourning bitter, but there's a soft flicker this time, a light accepting of the dark, not solely on the exorcising of one's demons, but a less curled-up and smacked-inward youthful anger and despair (slow tempos dominate, belie the panoramic crawl through this crazy little thing called life), a more assured air. I can't help but conjure up, of all things, the café scene from Before Sunset, Jesse to Celine, "When I was younger, I was healthier, but I was racked with insecurity. Now I'm older, my problems are deeper, but I'm more equipped to handle them." Since the heroin has presumably vanished, I'm sure the problems aren't as life-threatening, yet the bleak sublime has still lost a hue or two.
Is part of that flickering tint, both sonically and lyrically, the absence of Layne's exceptional, eerie voice? He was undeniably, pardon the use of a far-overused word, unique. So yes, you notice; an impossibility not to. But there's a variant consciousness at work that has been glimpsed before, if you chose to pay attention. Lucky for us, 'the new guy' does fit in -- the trademark vocal harmonies remain amazingly seamless -- thus giving the overcast misery corner of the rock and/or roll world a serious effort from a serious band. I suppose a couple of tracks still need a smidgen more growth than the rest to comfortably settle within the shadows of my skull (truly, all are, at worst, excellent), and some more cynical than I, a frightening notion, might conclude that such a harmonic flood is to masque the newbie -- Dirt, I say! This is organic -- but the idea of a half-assed cash-in from these not-exactly-prolific dudes is as laughable as me campaigning against hot pants. Yeah, I mentioned them twice. We've all got our raging Achilles, some of us even have dozens. Hackwork is gleefully absent, and thanks to the internets, I've been listening to this nearly non-stop for a week until my yesterday exchange of cash for plastic goods so I could finally headphone n' darkness the fucker. My informed -- I bought Facelift the day it came out, on 8-track, whipper snappers -- conclusion?
Yeah, it's Great.