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).