It seems like it took years for this collection to be released, but nice that it’s finally here, and thank god it’s two cd’s. All the major grunge bands had their own thing goin’ on, AIC stuck with the heavy, sludgy, dark side of things. Not to say that they only brought the rock though. I rate the softer/acoustic side of the band just as high as the alt/metal side. This much needed “Essential” set means you can now get rid of your “Greatest Hits” disc and “Nothing Safe: Best Of The Box” disc. It’s all here. In fact so is most of their mega-hit album “Dirt” for that matter. I may have added another track from “Jar Of Flies” and “Alice In Chains” myself, or maybe “Junkhead”, but otherwise this is close to perfect. To be honest, if I myself were to pick just two songs from the “Unplugged” album, it really would have been “Nutshell” and “Over Now”. So cool to see “Right Turn” on here too. I call this a must for any level of fan.
Metal Album Reviews[RSS]
Alice In Chains was a pinnacle Seattle band, and they were part of the Seattle movement that was so prevalent in the 90s, and they carved a niche for themselves in the music world. They had tasted the triumphs of success and they also tasted the bitter pills of defeat (the death of singer Layne Staley was the worst of it all). Many compilations have come to fruition out of the Alice In Chains catalog. MUSIC BANK was the best of the bunch because not only did you get a helping of 3 CDs compiling hits, rarities, and remixes, it included a cd-rom and a comprehensive booklet inside detailing the history of the band itself. Before that was NOTHING SAFE: The Best of The Box, and although it had it’s share of the hits, it was merely a sampler and a very small portion of what could have been a huge meal. Then Sony Special products released the pointless 10-track collection GREATEST HITS, which was a complete dud because tons of great songs were left off at the expense of giving the consumer something cheaply manufactured and made. But now, we’ve got another compilation from Sony entitled THE ESSENTIAL Alice In Chains. Now another question comes to mind here: is this compilation any better? Well, the answer is mostly yes, with a nay for a major single and a few minor hits that were left off this compilation.
The thing this compilation does nicely that MUSIC BANK also did was compile the songs in chronological order. Here’s how it runs down on each of the compilations hearty two discs.
On disc 1 you get the pummeling “We Die Young”, the classic “Man In The Box”, the underrated epic feel of “Sea of Sorrow”, and the unadulterated pleasure of the chilling “Love, Hate, Love” from FACELIFT. While these four songs truly represent the meat of FACELIFT, they also represent the origins of Alice In Chains…the majestic building of their monolithic sound and power. Next up we get the entire SAP ep minus that goofy final hidden track, although not in the order of the original ep, which is no big deal because all four songs are excellent tracks. “Got Me Wrong”, “Right Turn”, “Am I Inside”, and “Brother” all blend acoustic and electric nuggets of alternative metal, with “Am I Inside” being a ballad of sorts. From there we dive right into the songs from the masterpiece album DIRT. This is where the compilation runs into a major flaw. You do get the hits such as “Rooster”, “Them Bones”, “Would?” (found on the end of disc 2), and “Angry Chair”. You also get other tracks from dirt like the thrash of “Dam That River”, the disorienting title track, and the thundering “God Smack”. But my question is why the hell did they leave “Down In A Hole” off of this compilation? What in their right minds made them leave off such a classic song that was a big, big song on the radio and a hit video as well? Well, the folks at Sony must have been smoking crack. This flaw may irk many fans including myself, so it almost renders this compilation completely unnecessary as we have the comprehensive MUSIC BANK. So that’s the one major flaw this overview runs into, but it’s pretty much the only major flaw here.
Now we go into disc two, which represents the later years of Alice In Chains. We pick up with two fine songs from JAR OF FLIES to start disc two, the shining radio nugget “No Excuses” and the angsty majesty of “I Stay Away”. But I think “Rotten Apple” and “Don’t Follow” should have been included on this compilation as well, so those are two other more minor flaws here, especially since “Don’t Follow” could be heard on the airwaves at that point. But then next we head right into the self-titled “tripod” album, and the slow burn of “Grind”, the catchy stomp of “Again”, and the folky metallic bluesy “Heaven Beside You” all represent the album quite well, showcasing the classic rock stylings that made the album different sonically from the past Alice In Chains records. Then we get two non-album tracks in remix form, with “What The Hell Have I? and “A Little Bitter”, both featured on the LAST ACTION HERO soundtrack. The remix versions sound almost no different from the original versions except that they’re sound is a bit heavier and thick than the cleaner metal of their almost mirror counterparts. Then you get two nuggets from the unplugged cd, with the classic “Nutshell” and the quiet dynamics of “Over Now” providing respite from the heavy rock that made Alice In Chains a household name. The compilation comes to an end with 3 more songs, the previously released recordings of “Get Born Again” and “Died”, which have bite but sound a little unfinished and leave you feeling the void that has been left from Staley’s death. And the last song, the big, mighty majestic roar of the classic hit “Would?” ends the two-disc set with a bang, providing the band’s biggest hit and most impassioned performance. It became a staple of 90s radio singles and also was featured on the SINGLES soundtrack. It was among the best of a handful of songs in their catalog.
So to the Alice In Chains fan I say only get this to complete your catalog if you want to have everything by Alice In Chains. If you’re merely curious about the band and want to get a taste of AIC and not take a bite out of your wallet, then this compilation will serve you well. Although this compilation leaves off a couple of songs that would have made the title “essential” stand true, this compilation does do a nice job of capturing the best parts of Alice In Chains in all their primal, disorienting and bleakly monstrous glory. This was a band whose time was cut short by tragedy, but who ultimately left a huge mark on the music scene. ESSENTIALS is essential for AIC completists, and a good introduction for first timers. But be warned: if you want to get all the hits and get your money’s worth, then track down MUSIC BANK.
Certainly this re-mastered collection tops the previous “Greatest Hits” and “Best of the Box” offers. It’s definitely worth the $20 for the album.
One has to wonder, as is obligatory with any compilation representative of an artist’s entire body of work, how a few Chains standards were omitted.
The biggest omission is the absence of the beautifully crafted “Down In A Hole,” but also curious is the “Rain When I Die” selection over “Junk Head” from “Dirt.” Other interesting selections would be the “Sap-heavy” track inclusions while AIC’s mini-masterpiece, “Jar Of Flies” seems under-represented. “Rotten Apple,” “Whale and Wasp” or “Don’t Follow” could have easily been included on the ostensibly shorter second CD. Also, though Layne’s performance on the unplugged version of “Nutshell” is particularly poignant, the album version of that song (though never released as a single) is regarded by some as the band’s single best track and could have been included in its original form.
Regardless of opinion of the song selection, this two-disc set is fairly comprehensive and undeniably worth the price of purchase.
THE BAND: Layne Staley (vocals, guitar), Jerry Cantrell (guitar, vocals), Mike Inez (bass), Sean Kinney (drums & percussion).
THE DISC(S): (2006) 28 tracks on 2-discs clocking in at approximately 130 total minutes (disc-1 at 73:56 minutes, disc-2 at 55:54). Included with the discs is a 6-page foldout containing song titles/times/credits, a brief 3-page intro, band photos, and what songs came from which albums and the year released. This compilation follows the band from 1990-99. Label – Sony/Columbia.
ALBUM REPRESENTATION: Facelift (4 songs), Dirt (9), Sap (4), Jar Of Flies (2), Alice In Chains (3), Unplugged (2), Music Bank (2), “Last Action Hero” soundtrack (2).
COMMENTS: Alice In Chains (AIC) was one of my favorite bands from the 1990’s. Exciting and unique, dark and brooding – extraordinary and matchless vocals, crunchy electric guitars, captivating acoustic guitars, solid bass work, effortless drumming. And perhaps most importantly – great melodies with a wide range – alternative, hard rock, grunge, metal, and even lite-rock as “Jar Of Flies” would teach us. There are several AIC ‘best of’ compilations out there… “Nothing Safe: The Best Of The Box” (1999), “Greatest Hits” (2001), the extensive 4-disc “Music Bank” (1999), and this “Essential”. All are good, however there’s a lot of repetition in the song selections. AIC had 3 full length studio albums and 3 shorter EP’s… and having 4 compilations doesn’t make sense to a lot of fans. For me, the “Music Bank” is good, but it’s filled with too many demos, remixes and live songs. The single disc collections are great, but not nearly long enough. That brings us to this 2-disc “Essential” set. For the money, it’s the best mix on the market as of 2006. THE GOOD: The staples are (almost) all here in their remastered glory – “Man In The Box”, “We Die Young”, “Brother”, “Angry Chair”, “Rooster”, “Dam That River”, “No Excuses”, “I Stay Away”, “Grind”, “Heaven Beside You”, “Would?”, etc. Nine (should’ve been ten) songs from “Dirt” is warranted. Even the lesser hits are selected carefully – “Sea Of Sorrow”, “Right Turn”, “Them Bones”, “Rain When I Die”, “Nutshell”, etc. The 2 tracks from the “Music Bank” only, “Get Born Again” and “Died” are great to have without having to make the hefty “Bank” purchase. The digitally remastered sound is crisp. THE NOT SO GOOD: I found only two major things wrong with this “Essential” collection. 1. – most importantly, there are 2 staples the label missed… how could they put this together and not include “Down In A Hole” and “Bleed The Freak”? To me, this is an absolute crime. I’d compare that to a company putting together a Led Zeppelin “Essential” set and not including the songs “Rock And Roll”, and “Kashmir”. “Down In A Hole” is easily one of AIC’s most recognized songs. Other AIC tracks that I felt were deserving (but did not make the cut) – “Sludge Factory”, “Shame In You”, “Frogs”, “Rotten Apple”, and/or “Don’t Follow”. 2. Almost twenty-five minutes of unused space on disc-2. Adding two or three of the omitted songs (mentioned above) could have made this set superb in every aspect. Minor things wrong – no tracks were included from their “Live” disc, as well as perhaps not enough songs (only two included here) from AIC’s outstanding “Unplugged” release. Fairly thin liner notes. And, couldn’t they have found a better picture for the front cover? OVERALL: Any compilation I’ve ever listened to is not without flaws… and “The Essential Alice In Chains” is no exception. The music here is brilliant, and outside of the two significant songs (mentioned above) that were neglected, I truly feel this is their best mix of songs for the money in one package (4.5 stars).
There are already two Alice In Chains compilations out there, and they have all of the most popular songs, but they kind of miss the most interesting thing about Alice In Chains. This band is usually classified as either grunge or metal, which is a perfectly accurate label if you only listen to their three studio albums. But they also released two short EPs that showed a much quieter and more contemplative side of their sound. These EPs contain moody, bluesy songs performed on acoustic guitars. I guess it’s not really that big of a departure (didn’t metal start out as just a really loud variation on the blues?) but it’s also quite different from what their less subtle contemporaries were doing.
The thing is, singer Layne Staley’s voice was perfectly suited to low-key introspective songs. He could yell better than most others, too, but on the softer numbers, he could sing in a very haunting, sombre drawl that many later singers have tried and failed to imitate. And that gave depth to Alice In Chains. Somehow they always seemed more serious than the other grunge bands.
The ideal Alice In Chains compilation should show that side together with the loud, rockin’ singles. This compilation tries to do that, but misses the two most important songs. It contains almost all of the band’s most popular album Dirt, except, inexplicably, the one softer song “Down In A Hole,” which perfectly encapsulates this thoughtful side of the band and contrasts well with the loud and angry songs on the album. Then, the compilation touches on the band’s second EP Jar Of Flies, but doesn’t include the opening song “Rotten Apple,” which has a beautiful opening build-up and a moving, world-weary vocal by Staley. Immediately, the compilation’s claim to gathering the “essential” Alice in Chains goes out the window. It’s a pity. The record company really could have fit both songs somewhere on two CDs.
The truly “essential” Alice In Chains consists of two albums, Dirt and Jar Of Flies. Those two albums cost less put together than this one. So, if you don’t know anything about this band, it would be more logical to get those two albums instead of this compilation. And if you’re a big fan of the band, then you probably already have the box set, so this compilation will contain nothing that you aren’t familiar with.
But if you already own and like Dirt and Jar Of Flies, but not the other albums, then this compilation becomes surprisingly relevant. First of all, it contains the entire Sap EP (except for the bonus track, which isn’t good anyway). Then, it has four songs from the band’s first album Facelift, including both of the well-known singles. This should be all you need from the debut unless you’re a really big fan, in which case you already own the whole album. The band’s third and final album is represented by four very good songs, one in a live rendition. The rest of the album is also good, so maybe the compilation should have covered more of it at the expense of some songs from Dirt, but again, compilations aren’t really made for the band’s biggest fans.
Further still, the compilation contains two non-album tracks, “What The Hell Have I” and “A Little Bitter,” which appeared on the Last Action Hero soundtrack. “A Little Bitter” doesn’t appear on either of the previous two Alice In Chains compilations, so it’s even kind of rare. There are also a couple of tracks from the Unplugged live album. They’re not really essential, but if you have Dirt and Jar Of Flies, you might find them interesting.
And finally, this compilation contains both of the band’s last songs, “Get Born Again” and “Died,” which were recorded during a brief reunion in 1998. “Get Born Again” is included on the Nothing Safe compilation, but “Died” has previously been unavailable anywhere other than the box set. These are the most valuable inclusions on this compilation, because they’re the band’s best “metal” songs, featuring Layne Staley’s finest performances. “Died” is not only the more obscure of the two, but the better one as well. Staley’s lyrics were always really vague, but this song contains a seemingly clear allusion to events in his own life, and listening to it, maybe it’s understandable that he sort of gave up.
In conclusion, this compilation doesn’t replace the best Alice In Chains albums, but it does replace all of the previous compilations. If you can’t or don’t want to get the box set, then this is a good choice to round off your Alice In Chains collection, since it does give you a few great rarities and a whole EP in addition to the hits and album tracks. But if you really want to have all of their songs, then of course there’s no point in bothering with it. Then again, if that’s the case, then you own the box set, and you’re not reading this review.