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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Alice In Chains: The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here

ALICE IN CHAINS: THE DEVIL PUT DINOSAURS HERE (2013)

1) Hollow; 2) Pretty Done; 3) Stone; 4) Voices; 5) The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here; 6) Lab Monkey; 7) Low Ceiling; 8) Breath On A Window; 9) Scalpel; 10) Phantom Limb; 11) Hung On A Hook; 12) Choke.

Well, so much for naïve optimism. Maybe if more critics were more critical, and more fanatics less fanatical, Cantrell would take heed and correct the formalistic mistake of the band's last al­bum — as it happens, not only is nothing corrected, but everything is worsened to the point of nauseating. Where Black Gives Way To Blue was a misstep, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here is an unfunny joke. It might have been a modestly funny joke, if it weren't so goddamn long, but at over sixty minutes, the whole damn thing is just excruciating.

You see, once upon a time, there was a star-struck alliance between two people — a searcher and a sufferer. The searcher was totally sincere and dedicated in his search for new types of sounds, acoustic and electric; the sufferer was equally sincere about his suffering and had a knack for credibly conveying that suffering to the people around him. The alliance produced some of the finest music of the 1990s, still every bit as impressive and resonating today, if not more so. Then the sufferer finally had his suffering cut short, and with this, it's almost as if the searcher totally lost the stimulus for continuing with his search. Honestly, the closest analogy to this situation that comes to mind is The Doors continuing without Jim Morrison. Remember Other Voices? No? Good. Most likely, you won't be remembering The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here in a couple yea... uh, weeks from now on, either.

There are twelve new songs on this album, running for about five-six minutes on the average. Each of the songs features a brand new Jerry Cantrell riff, usually one of the grumbly, distorted, lower-than-low ones. Each of the songs is sung by lead singer William DuVall, very frequently in dual harmony with Cantrell (actually, I think Cantrell may have some lead parts as well, but at this point, their singing tones are almost impossible to tell apart). Each of the songs sets the exact same «brooding» mood — very dark, very unhappy, very misanthropic. And not a single song has got a distinct personality of its own. The whole damn package could just as well have been computer-generated. Brutal intro, stiff verse, stiff chorus, repeat, solo, long repetitive outro, next. Sixty minutes on, when the music is finally over, you feel like you have just emerged from under a pile of rock sediments. Hopefully, the sun is shining.

Now none of this would be quite as painful if it weren't for two facts. First, this «give the people what they want» principle has completely ruined Cantrell as a riff-writer. Every once in a while, through a happy accident, he is still able to fall upon an auspicious note/tone combination — like the riff of ʽStoneʼ, where there is a strategically placed Iommi-style bend that gives the whole thing a «giant-from-under-the-mountain» feel. But most of the time, we have to tolerate meaning­less strings of heavy notes that are neither emotionally loaded nor technically complex (ʽPhantom Limbʼ, ʽPretty Doneʼ, title track, you name it). If you feel like disagreeing, just put this back to back with ʽRain When I Dieʼ or ʽRoosterʼ to remind yourself how low the once mighty has fallen. And the reason? Simple enough, I think — the man goes to work with the set goal of «writing yet another Alice In Chains song». The most assured way to ruin potentially good art. Just ask The Rolling Stones for confirmation.

Second — sorry, but this DuVall person is a complete sham. The man sings every bit of this material as if he were a pre-programmed robot. Layne may have been a somewhat «typical» sin­ger for the grunge era, but he actually sang like a human being. A permanently depressed human being, sure, but still one capable of emotional range, quiet, loud, brooding, angry, sentimental, offensive, whatever. The vocals on this album are totally blurry. Just some random guy mum­bling «dark» stuff, sometimes raising or lowering his voice when the algorithm tells him to. No personality whatsoever. We may be happy for him that he doesn't do drugs (well, at least I think he doesn't), but he pretty much relates to Staley like an authentic Gucci bag or something like that relates to a cheap counterfeit. I feel really baffled when reading anonymous Internet assessments like: «...William DuVall's vocals don't necessarily deliver the same sort of pained, shuddering punch that Staley's were able to give, but he continues to prove himself as a worthy successor as the band's new singer...» ...what? And who the heck needs this self-conscious attempt to synthe­size another Alice In Chains album without the «pained, shuddering punch»? I want the «pained, shuddering punch», goddammit. If you cannot deliver — get the hell out of here.

Or, alternately, deliver some­thing else and don't call yourself Alice In Chains. Because, frankly, if we forget all about the prehistory of this particular band, The Devil has even fewer reasons to exist. When twelve draggy, overlong, gray-toned, poorly-riffed, emotionally monotonous com­positions irritate your senses instead of penetrating them, nor is there a single bit of innovative thinking anywhere in sight, just droning sludge for the sake of being sludgy, what in the world could motivate you to defend this music other than nostalgic fandom? All right, if Cantrell ma­nages to make a profit on this sludge, I'm happy for him — for his immense contribution to the world of music, he deserves everything he can get — but that does not make the record any less of a cheap rip-off. There's just too much of a «big lie» aura around it — they make this «formally depressing» music without actually feeling depressed. A fake, phoney album, and it makes me sad that quite a few people still ended up mistaking it for the real thing. Out of love and respect for «classic era» Alice In Chains, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here gets as low a thumbs down as it can possibly get, and here's hoping the guys just stick to touring from now on.

Check "The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here" (CD) on Amazon
Check "The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here" (MP3) on Amazon

3 comments:

  1. I don't think I've ever read a negative review so clearly heartfelt, so well reasoned, and so evidently motivated by love for what was once possible for a group, rather than by hatred or resentment of anyone in the group. Bravo.

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  2. I insist, George: give solo Jerry Cantrell a chance. 'Degradation Trip' is as bit as good as 'Dirt', or at least 'Tripod'. And no DuVall!!!

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  3. "Maybe if more critics were more critical, and more fanatics less fanatical, Cantrell would take heed and correct the formalistic mistake of the band's last al­bum — as it happens, not only is nothing corrected, but everything is worsened to the point of nauseating."
    I can see where you're coming from with this, as at this point the band is surrounded by more fans and worshippers than those that would give them an honest opinion, but let's not overreach. Assuming you know more about or understand a band better than anyone else is grounds for trouble and doesn't allow for differences of opinion (even if you DO happen to have said knowledge).

    "Sixty minutes on, when the music is finally over, you feel like you have just emerged from under a pile of rock sediments. Hopefully, the sun is shining."
    Here's what I don't understand: why did you PRAISE Tripod for this type of willful suffering quality but decry it here. Perhaps this was the point? At least some of these songs have some slightly pronounced melodies, unlike the former.

    As for playing any of these songs back-to-back with anything anciallary to Dirt, perhaps you should try playing Tripod immediately after one of the band's classic records. It's absolutely painful and boring as hell, so I've learned to never make that mistake again.

    All told, I still think you have a very good and even spot-on analysis here, George. I don't agree wholesale, but I can hear where you're coming from with the criticisms.

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