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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Grunge Is Alive (Again)

For several years following the demise of the Seattle "Grunge" scene, Pearl Jam has proudly and successfully held their ground as the last band standing. However, one band from that era is ready to reclaim their rightful place in the spotlight; that band is Alice In Chains.

Following the tragic death of Layne Staley in April of 2002, the remaining members of Alice In Chains (founder/guitarist Jerry Cantrell, bassist Mike Inez and drummer Sean Kinney) were forced to take a break and it wasn't until a Tsunami benefit show in 2005 that they reunited, with the help of various guest singers. The benefit show sparked a reunion tour, introducing William Duvall as a new member of the band; a previous tourmate from Jerry's solo projects. Upon reuniting for the tour, drummer Sean Kinney expressed interest in recording new material but was hesitant to move on as Alice In Chains out of respect for Layne. However, it wasn't long before the band announced that they were recording with producer Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Rush, Stone Sour) for a Summer 2009 release; their first in 14 years, not including a number of compilations.

The album, titled "Black Gives Way To Blue", is set for release on September 29th. Its first single "A Looking In View" does well to mimic the signature sound previously created by combining Jerry and Layne's vocals in haunting harmonies. The song is dark and heavy and certainly the farthest thing from playing it safe that the band could have done for their first venture with the new lineup. The second single, "Check My Brain", is Jerry's story of moving from Seattle to Los Angeles, and is every bit as strong but not quite as heavy as "View". The title track of the album, a stirring tribute to Layne, features piano by Elton John who graciously accepted Jerry's request to play on the song after receiving an email from him explaining the song's meaning. Jerry and Elton have expressed a great deal of mutual respect in separate interviews regarding the guest spot, so the possibility of Elton playing on the track was far more feasible than Jerry had originally thought.

For me, Alice In Chains is the unsung hero of the Grunge era of rock. Pearl Jam may be my favorite band, but the sound created by Alice In Chains with Layne and now while moving on is every bit as important to the legacy of that huge movement and to me personally and I can't wait to hear the album from beginning to end. I remember playing the CD of their MTV Unplugged show and my dad (who wasn't really a fan) ended up keeping it because he was so blown away by it. When it was released on DVD, I watched it for the first time in a dark room surrounded by candles and hardly blinked for the whole performance. The bottom line is that these guys aren't out to replace Layne Staley, they're a group of musicians who fought to save their struggling friend and by moving on they can celebrate the music they made with him, while creating new music for the people who want to listen. For the haters, imagine if AC/DC quit when Bon Scott died; enough said.

One last thought....
While I eagerly anticipate Pearl Jam's release "Backspacer" on September 20th, in addition to the new Alice In Chains record, I think "A Looking In View" should win the Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance at the 52nd Grammy Awards January 31, 2010.

**UPDATED**
After writing this post in anticipation for the release of the new album from Alice In Chains, I've had the chance to hear it all the way through. Along with "A Looking In View" and "Check My Brain", strong tracks include "Acid Bubble" and the first acoustic track "Your Decision". You can hear new vocalist Duvall shine on "Last Of My Kind" while he proves his worth without trying to be a Layne clone.

However, as great of a heavy rock album this is and as great of a job they did to capture the sound that everyone loves, it's the stunning title track that really grabs me. It's beautifully written and played and the tone is set from the beginning, as Jerry Cantrell says goodbye to their friend. Elton's piano provides the perfect background for Jerry's sweeping guitars and vocals; a very worthy tribute.

"Lay down, black gives way to blue....lay down, I'll remember you."

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