The Unplugged acoustic series is one of the best concepts to emerge from MTV in recent years, and Alice in Chains’ performance ranks among the best of the MTV Unplugged series.
Alice in Chains was one of the heaviest bands to emerge from the Seattle grunge scene in the early 1990’s, and listening to albums like Dirt and especially Facelift it’s hard to imagine the band in an acoustic setting, stripped of all of the pummeling heaviness of those two albums. But when you consider the more melodic direction the band took with their Sap and Jar of Flies EPs, you knew the idea had potential.
To sum up the band’s Unplugged performance in one word – powerful. As much as I love the Alice in Chains studio albums, once you strip the songs down to the acoustic level it exposes just how good these songs really are, and showcases the incredible songwriting talents of Jerry Cantrell. Layne Staley’s emotional vocals are another key element of this album’s power. The late vocalist had the ability to channel so much of his self-destructive energy into his performances, and this is no exception. No matter what your opinions on addiction, it’s hard not to be moved by Staley’s singing, particularly on songs like “Down in a Hole” and “Would”. Ultimately, I think this MTV Unplugged album is the best of what Alice in Chains had to offer. With few exceptions, I prefer the acoustic songs on this album to their studio counterparts. They just seem to resonate more in the acoustic setting.
In the end, Alice in Chains Unplugged serves as the band’s crowning achievement as well as a testament to wasted potential and what might have been. All Alice in Chains fans should own this album, as should anyone who’s into alternative rock, grunge, or hard rock in general.