While I lament the passing of Layne Staley as much as the next person, I can’t help but be happy that there’s finally another great Alice in Chains album. Sure, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here is not an album that would have been made with Staley, but it’s still a great album. I don’t subscribe to the notion that it isn’t really Alice in Chains anymore. Many great bands have switched singers, Van Halen and AC/DC to name a few. I think the departure of John Frusciante or the death of Cliff Burton shows that any member of a group leaving is potential for drastic change. But Alice is not pulling a Lynyrd Skynyrd and trying to pretend their iconic front man is still with them. They’ve revamped and are still pumping out great tunes, but as Alice version 2.0.
That being said, I didn’t care much for the much-loved 2009 effort Black Gives Way To Blue. I won’t call it a bad album, but my problem with it is that it sounds a bit too stereotypically Alice. Songs like “Check My Brain” and “Lesson Learned” are exactly what I expected from the new band and while there were a few standout tracks (“A Looking In View” “When The Sun Rose Again” “Black Gives Way To Blue”) most of the album, to me, felt like it was made more because Columbia records knew an Alice in Chains album would sell than because they wanted to make a great record.
Fast forward four years and the new line up has had time to gel and settle in to being a band. Devil suffers from some of the same drawbacks as Black, but it also looks forward. I can hear elements of Facelift, Dirt and Alice in Chains all over the album but at the same time I hear a new band that’s finally come into its own. While Alice were the prototypical grunge band 20 years ago they’re now sounding a bit more like sludge rock. Most of the songs are still written by Jerry Cantrell but what sets Devil apart from Degradation Trips or Boggy Depot is the rich harmonies between Cantrell and William DuVall. They’re like a darker, heavier Simon & Garfunkel.
I’m loving the two singles “Hollow” and “Stone” for how they showcase where the band is at now. “Low Ceiling” and “Breath on a Window” have great vocal hooks and melodies to die for. “Phantom Limb” starts out with the best riff on the album and just keeps going. A few of the songs even feature some of the great lead work of Jerry Cantrell. While nothing on the album is as great as the solos for “Them Bones” or “Man In The Box,” there’s some of the best stuff we’ve heard from him for quite a while. Far and away my favorite is the title track. Alice have never shied away from exploring the personal demons of addiction and death but now they take a look at the demon of organized religion.
I don’t think I’d call the album perfect. I’m glad Bassist Mike Inez and Drummer Sean Kinney received more songwriting credit, but I would have liked to have heard more from DuVall. I understand that they’ve revamped Alice so he takes a backseat to Cantrell with vocal duties, but he’s an awesome singer and it would be great to hear him flex his muscle a bit more. And of course, it sucks that most of the songs sound very, very similar, but at least they all sound really fucking good.
It’s also really cool that nobody told them that making music videos is old-fashioned.