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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Alice In Chains: Jar Of Flies


1) Rotten Apple; 2) Nutshell; 3) I Stay Away; 4) No Excuses; 5) Whale & Wasp; 6) Don't Follow; 7) Swing On This.

As early as the fall of 1991, the band demonstrated their flexibility by recording an EP called Sap that con­tained five acoustic songs — originally intended as demos for subsequent metallization, but then deemed self-sufficient as they were. (Technically, they were not entirely acoustic, with at least some electric guitar overdubs, but all the backbones remained acoustic). After Dirt, they de­cided to return to this practice, and the next EP, Jar Of Flies, already had seven songs, some of them lengthy enough to guarantee a running length over thirty minutes. For some reason, al­though this would seem an utterly natural thing to do, Sap and Jar Of Flies have yet to see a sin­gle-CD re-release, which would most likely prompt the curious music lover into adding it to his collection and gaining a new type appreciation for the band.

None of the songs are as immediately striking as the blitzkrieg of Dirt, but there is no reason why they should be. This is, finally, the moment when one should put some subtlety back into the proceedings, replace nervous breakdown with melancholia, follow the terrifying epileptic fit of Dirt with the quiet recuperative depression of Jar Of Flies. Not that things will get any easier; not a chance, as the very first track, suitably called 'Rotten Apple', tells you that 'Innocence is over, ignorance is spoken, confidence is broken, sustenance is stolen, arrogance is potent'. They will just get... subtler. Think of the difference between putting a bullet through your brain and la­zily and hazily gazing as the blood drips from your freshly opened veins. Whichever scenario looks more pacifying and relaxing to you?

Now, to bring you back from these unsettling thoughts, Jar Of Flies may be the best spot to check out Jerry Cantrell's amazing musical versatility. Some of this sounds a hell of a lot like James Taylor (!), e. g. the soft Fido-on-the-porchstep country-western rumination of 'Don't Fol­low' (actually sung by Jerry himself instead of Layne, giving the song extra accessibility). Some sounds like lounge jazz, e. g. 'Swing On This', propelled by new bassist Mike Inez's traditionalist rhythmics — before it starts justifying the title and mutates from 'swing' to nasty hard rock in its mid-section. And some sounds like mid-Seventies British progressive rock à la Camel and the like, e. g. the instrumental 'Whale & Wasp' with its deep, painful guitar moaning.

'Rotten Apple', occupying more space than anything else on here and, thus, intuitively understood as the album's major piece, is itself enhanced with a talkbox effect — which is, fortunately, just as creepy as it is on Pink Floyd records and not at all as silly as it is on Peter Frampton ones — and represents the perfect example of creative collaboration between Inez, responsible for the song's morose bassline pivot, Cantrell, fleshing it out with the ugly, but eerie talkbox, dark folk acoustic rhythms, and a set of other warped electric effects, and Staley, who somehow comes up with the perfect lyrics for it all: 'Eat of the apple, so young / I'm crawling back to start'. Come to think of it, not that we know how old Adam was himself when he tasted the fruit, so perhaps it is a bit too presumptious for Layne to equate his sins with those of the forefather — but it is not as if he sounded unocnvincing or something.

Jar Of Flies sold pretty well upon release, but, partly due to its shortness, partly due to its «aty­pical» portrayal of the band, has not managed to accumulate the same classic status as Facelift and Dirt. No surprise: in between the flashy and the subtle, we always tend to drift towards the flashy — at first, at least. But each and every fan of good music should check it out, not to men­tion that many people who cannot stand heavy brutal rock because of blood group incompatibi­lity will find Jar Of Flies a much more natural way to appreciate and enjoy the greatness of Alice in Chains. Thumbs up from every direction — what a brave, scary, talented band.


  1. George, I'm surprised that as serious a music fan that you are, you seem to campaign for Sap and Jar of Flies to be sandwiched together. Not that you necessarily WANT that to happen, but it does make sense from a business standpoint. They're packaged together in a special edition vinyl release, but I think it has two discs. Rightly so, since the two EPs, despite similarities in aesthetic, are quite different. Plus, the latter runs just over 30 minutes, which is the average album length of a classic country & western record.

    I have to say, though, that this is probably my second favorite AIC release. It doesn't have the focus problems of Facelift and while, as you say, it's much subtler than Dirt, it maintains the cohesiveness of that album while going in a slightly different direction. A great little work that I tend to play quite often.

  2. Oh, yes, I almost forgot: why no single review of Sap, George? I seem to recall you covering it all by its lonesome on your older site, did you just not feel it worthy of its own article here? Or did you just not have anything new to say about it?