In 1995, Alice In Chains had been feeling good on the success of their first #1 album on the charts, 1994’s Jar of FliesEP, the first EP to ever debut at #1. At the same time, they were in peril as a band, with issues stemming from Layne Staley’s addiction to heroin and other band turmoil. The band did not tour to support Jar of Flies as Layne was in rehab and they took part of 1995 off. The lost opportunities from this period, including a massive Metallica/Danzig/Suicidal Tendencies tour and a near-top-of-the bill split at Woodstock 1994 (which I am still mad about) almost killed the band. They broke up briefly too, according to Sean Kinney. Little did we know they were crafting a great album, Alice in Chains (Columbia), to wash all that pain and disappointment away for a brief moment in time.
As Layne went through his issues, the remaining Chains’ gang worked on songs Jerry Cantrell had begun writing. They doubled down on their successful chill EPs (“Got Me Wrong” from Sap got a second life as a hit from the soundtrack album to Kevin Smith’sClerks) and “Down In A Hole” from Dirt, and decided to further work their unplugged side into the mix with their heavy bangers. The resultant album was more of a blend of Hard rock than dirge-y heavy metal but was creepy, dark, and wicked sounding all the same. Their trademark harmonies were intact and in some cases were even more weird and haunted than ever before. Some of the songs drew on Cantrell’s gift for Americana and Country flavors in spots too. Still, none of the songs felt out of place at all. It just sounded like AIC, but more expansive.
With Layne’s absences before and during the recording, Cantrell dominated the songwriting and started to get even more personal than ever before with the lyrics. He ended up singing lead on three of the band’s four singles () on the album, which saw him come into his own as a distinctive and original lead singer in his own right. Layne did contribute the music to the positively groovy and metal “Head Creeps”, arguably the most Dirt-like track on the album. Layne did turn in many memorable lyrics to nine of the twelve tracks and chipped in more of his indelible vocals. Jerry flexed his guitar muscles hard with armies of double-tracked leads, ripping solos, and textural parts. “Again”, the fourth single”, had all of these elements. After debuting on Jar of Flies, Mike Inez had settled in and injected his signature bass grooves. Kinney drifted away from his best-known style of his Middle-Eastern tinged rhythms and played with an almost a 4-on-the-floor classic rock sensibility most of the album.
Lyrically the album was a little more straightforward and even shied away from some of the anguished poetry of the earlier AIC albums to more of a storyteller’s flow. Stil, themes of loss, disappointment, and depression, and drugs, didn’t cloud their verve for humor or even biting sarcasm.
Going in, the band could not know that Alice in Chains would be the bands’ final studio album with Staley. It does have a wistful, regrets-laden mood in it that definitely speaks to the events surrounding the band. It was still aBillboard top 3 album on its debut and eventual peak at #1, giving them three hits in a row. This was unheard of in the 1990s if your band wasn’t named Metallica. While it’s not underrated, or their best-loved, the album that was tough on the band to craft, yet still yielded hits and some of the more memorable material from the band until their studio return with Black Gives Way To Blue in 2009.