Due to the health problems of vocalist Layne Staley and other internal conflicts between the band members, Alice In Chains was unable to play any live shows after their Lollapalooza tour in 1993 which they did in support of their masterpiece Dirt. This unplugged album was their first ever show in three years and, given that, it is an unbelievable effort.
This easily ranks among the finest acoustic albums ever. Even when stripped down to the basics, the band's songs shine with heartfelt emotion and genius compositional skills. Vocalist Layne Staley sounds incredible: the timbre in his sad delivery is so honest and true, and adds to the dark and brooding nature of the songs. "Nutshell", off of their Jar of Flies EP, is interpreted true to its original save for the re-written acoustic bluesy coda by Jerry Cantrell. Staley's voice sounds achingly beautiful here, and the bass really drives the piece. The chorus of "Brother" is infectious and truly haunting in its emotional impact, and the addition of Cantrell's vocals widens its scope. The band is tighter and meaner on "Sludge Factory", with a bass-heavy context and shatteringly heavy acoustic notes. The album's most amazing moment is "Down in a Hole", one of the greatest songs written in the 90's, all genres included. Layne sounds more depressing than ever and turns in an excellent performance - he simply takes the listener on an unmatched emotional journey.
Guitarist Jerry Cantrell is arguably the greatest guitarist that emerged from the Seattle scene, and his songwriting skills remain unsurpassed. Even taken to their very core, his songs generate impossible sonic strength and his playing is out of this world. From his faithful rendition of "Rooster", a song written to his father, to the apocalyptic intro of "Frogs", he amazes both with his unique tone and remarkable ear for melody. He delves deep into experimental music too, particularly on "No Excuses", which seems like an almost re-arranged piece, where he plays a neat solo to complement its evocative flow. This song is also a highlight because of the performance of Sean Kinney, who doesn't miss a single beat. Kinney's kick drums also come out on the aforementioned "Frogs", the longest rendition on this disc. Bassist Mike Inez equally contributes to the album, best heard on "Heaven Beside You" and the intro of the band's hit "Would?".
"Angry Chair", one of the few songs solely written by Layne Staley, finds the band successfully translating this heavy rocker into an acoustic dirge. Staley also plays guitar here and his chorus must have influenced Mike Tramp during his Freak of Nature period quite a bit, given the similarity in his singing the song "World Doesn't Mind". As a matter of fact, Freak of Nature is the only band who comes close to capturing the dark essence of their heavy nature, even doing unplugged sessions, so you may want to give their Outtakes release a listen.
There is also a new song called "Killer Is Me", where guitarist Scott Olson picks up the bass and Mike Inez switches to guitar for a change. At the end of the song, Staley is so excited and overjoyed that he says, "I wish I could hug you all... but I'm not gonna", and the CD ends on a somewhat sad note, as if these were his last words to his fans.
This unplugged album is absolutely essential whether you're a fan of Alice In Chains or not. There's something for everyone here. Unless hopeless bleak music with introspective tone and desperate lyrics turn you off, you owe it to yourself to check it out, as well as the band's studio releases.
- No Excuses
- Sludge Factory
- Down in a Hole
- Angry Chair
- Got Me Wrong
- Heaven Beside You
- Over Now
- Killer Is Me