Vinyl Vlog 217

Vinyl Vlog 217

Monday, 01 May 2017

A deeper look at the grooves pressed into the Record Store Day 2017-issued 2×7” set by Alice In Chains.
Over the last few years in particular, Record Store Day has really seemed to cater to a “collectible” market over a market wherein fan interest is the focus. That has proven to be a little frustrating; because of it, record stores get glutted by people one day a yearhoping to score something they can resell – not necessarily something they can treasure. A good example might be when RSD featured a reissue of Hormoaning by Nirvana. Releases like that can be frustrating for fans because they almost immediately appear on a multitude of online auction sites complete with unbelievable asking prices but, this year, it’s cool to see a release like the double-single set by Alice In Chains; in its’ case, the singles aren’t the biggest (one appeared on a movie soundtrack and the other on a hits compilation), but they are well-known and highly regarded by Alice In Chains’ fans. That said, an argument could easily be made for the idea that this RSD release was made specifically with the band’s fans in mind.

As soon as a stylus sinks into the A-side of this set and “What The Hell Have I” begins flowing out of the vinyl like liquid magma, fans will begin to feel their bones liquify in perfect satisfaction. Originally written during the sessions which yielded Dirt, “What The Hell Have I” lay fallow (perhaps in part because the sort-of-sitar-sounding guitar figure that producer Andy Wallace snd guitarist Jerry Cantrell laid into the song) before the option of getting it on a movie soundtrack came along but, listening to the song now, how well it has aged is kind of astounding. With the benefit of hindsight, lyrics like “It’s hard to start things over/You can feel the fire around us/ All the time” and “What the hell have I?/ Little pride”seem far more prophetic of the band’s future than anyone could possibly have guessed in 1993. Likewise, that sitar-sounding guitar part and the rhythmic presentation made by bassist Mike Inez and drummer Sean Kinney [which were still fresh in their association – Inez only joined Alice In Chains in 1993 –ed] sound like a perfect pre-cursor to where the band would be in 1995 as illustrated on the tripod album; hearing how dark, smooth and sinister it sounds now is a little disconcerting, in hindsight.

While it continues to sound more like a throwback to Facelift, somehow, “A Little Bitter” remains a strong and sweet confection which balances “What The Hell Have I” out will on the single’s B-side. Here again, Layne Staley’s vocal feels more “glam” than “grit” (like a compatriot in many ways to “Queen Of The Rodeo”) but that dulls its infectious edge in precisely no way. Here – even twenty-two years after the single’s original release – listeners will still be able to imagine the wry and prickly little smile on Staley’s face as he cracks lines like “I’m so selfish, paying your rent/ While your blood I’m taking.”

Now, when one really thinks about it, a lot of creative miles, trials and tribulations had lapsed between when Alice In Chains wrote and recorded the material on the “What The Hell Have I” and “Get Born Again” singles (about six years – for those keeping score – but in that time the development in AIC’s sound and the public’s awareness of Layne Staley’s addiction and just how debilitating it was were made painstakingly clear), but they fit together incredibly well when one listens to them here. After the darkness and rage that “What The Hell Have I” and “A Little Bitter” put forth on the first single, “Get Born Again” tempers the energy quickly as the song opens with the dizzy sounding guitar figure which swirls around Staley’s vocal, as well as the muted/defeated tone in that vocal itself, but them builds with thunderous intensity quickly and can crush listeners beneath that weight. In retrospect, the frail and fragile tone of Staley’s voice throughout the song perfectly illustrates how dangerously out-of-control things had become in the AIC camp by 1998 but, placed into a different context against the “What The Hell Have I” single here, listeners are given a very different impression; here, the delicacy of Staley’s vocals in “Get Born Again” (and substantiated by the vocal take in “Died” on the B-side) perfectly illustrate just how dynamically different the band could sound while still utilizing the same tools to compose a song. Combined with the “What The Hell Have I” 7”, just how meticulously adept Alice In Chains could be at inspiring different emotional sensations with their music is made perfectly clear.

After having run front-to-back with both of the singles included with this set, there’s little question that longtime Alice In Chains fans will be satisfied with what they’ve heard on this 2-7” set. Taken together, the two singles exemplify the “rage and grace/beauty and sickness” image for which the band became so revered at the height of their powers. In the simplest terms, this Record Store Day release offers listeners a perfect and brief examination of what Alice In Chains was all about artistically on any day of the week; true, neither of these singles are the best known in the band’s canon, but they showcase precisely the same heart, soul and sickness as the songs on which they built their name. That’s pretty cool, and fans will know it and appreciate it as soon as they hear it. [Bill Adams]


The Record Store Day 2017 2 x 7” set was released in a 4000-copy pressing on April 22, 2017 by Legacy Records/Sony Music. Limited copies may still be available – try your luck at your favorite indie record store now!

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