Alice in Chains “Rainier Fog”


(24 Aug 2018, BMG)

I purposely waited a while before tackling the review of this album. I kept hoping it would grow on me, but I’m still not a huge fan.

There are a few good tunes on the album. My favorite is “Maybe.” It starts off with those patented harmonized vocals and carries them all the way through the track. It’s weird because they don’t really give the song a heavy metal or hard rock feel, but more of a country vibe.

It seems so strange to put so much emphasis on one word, but I love the way they say “yeah,” in the chorus to that song. It reminds me of what Layne Staley did in “Grind.”

I also really like “Never Fade” which sounds unlike anything Alice have ever done. This probably has something to do with the influence of new(ish) singer William DuVall. This is his third album with the group but one of his first major songwriting contributions. And it’s about damn time! I really enjoyed the stuff from his previous band, Comes With The Fall, and have been waiting for him to contribute more to Alice in Chains.

“So Far Under” is great also for being unique. This one is solely written by DuVall, features his lead work and starts with the best riff on the album.

The title track is another standout that drives the album along. I think it should have been the opener. I’m guessing one of the things that killed enthusiasm about this record was the lead single “The One You Know.” It’s definitely not the track I would have picked to fill that role. I honestly think I would have liked it more if I’d gotten a vinyl copy and mistakenly started with side two.

“Fly” features some interesting guitar sounds unlike anything else in the Alice canon, but feels like too much of a departure for me. “Drone” is perhaps the best example of the term ‘Doom Metal’ on the album, which is both a positive and negative for the track.

In some ways, this is sad for me. This feels like the Alice in Chains album where they cement their status as the elder statesman and spend the rest of their career putting out mediocre albums with a few gems scattered here and there. Before this, I had to buy every album they put out, but the next one I might pass on.

Maybe that has something to do with the lack of enthusiasm surrounding it. I remember being pumped up when The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here came out because I was hearing songs on the radio and watching great videos on YouTube. There really wasn’t any of that with this one. I don’t even listen to rock radio much anymore. I tend to go for the mix station.

In some ways that makes me sad. I used to love modern rock, but it just doesn’t thrill me as much as it used to. It also makes me happy to know I’m still growing and exploring new things.

Just like Alice in Chains, hard rock will always be a part of my past, but will they be a part of my future?

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A Little Disappointing


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It’s really cool that we finally have the first real pictures of a black hole, but after watching that Soundgarden video it’s a little disappointing.

Static X “Wisconsin Death Trip”


(23 March 1999, Warner Bros.)

I was surprised to see that Static-X is touring this year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their debut, Wisconsin Death Trip. Mainly because their leader died a few years ago. I remember when it happened. It was a huge blow for the hair gel industry and fans of industrial metal.

Sure, they were lumped in with the nu metal of the late 90s/early aughts, but they seemed to have better staying power than most of their peers from that era. I still enjoy their third album, Shadow Zone, that was released long after Limp Bizkit became completely flaccid and I’d done my best to forget about Puya.

It’s somewhat strange to think of how industrial music apes the big craze of the moment and adds electronics to it. Ministry did it with thrash metal in the early 90s, NIN did it with grunge in the mid-90s and Static-X did it with nu-metal at the end of the decade.

I wasn’t sure if they would be fronted by Hologram Wayne Static or just his reanimated corpse. The truth is actually stranger than either of those scenarios.

I was going to make the argument that Static-X wasn’t really a nu metal band, but then I read the Wikipedia definition which said the genre is “heavily syncopated and based on guitar riffs”  and that’s pretty hard to argue with. They were grounded in start/stop guitar riffs and Wayne Static’s goofy growly vocals. Just because I enjoy their music doesn’t give me any right to make excuses and call them something other than what they are.

Which is somewhat horrible, but they were never nearly as bad as Crazy Town. That group is also touring, which is strange because I thought that the entire band was dead.

A Hippy Band?


I went out with this girl last summer. I say ‘went out,’ but it was more like a friendly hang-out than a date. Unfortunately, it didn’t lead to anything. This could be because of any number of reasons, but somehow I got it stuck in my mind was that she’s a bit of a hippy.

Now, I’m not trying to hate on hippies, and that isn’t an automatic deal breaker for me. I’m sure some hippies are very fine people. I agree with hippies in some areas (environmentalism, nuclear disarmament, war is bad), but there are far more things I disagree with (tye-dye, non-violence, the Grateful Dead). I was a bit interested to discover how much of a hippie she was, but never really got the chance.

Anyway, the thing that really stuck out was what made me ask: “You’re a bit of a hippy aren’t you?”

She said she was a fan of Sublime.

It wasn’t until later that evening when I popped in a Sublime Greatest Hits disc that I realized how silly it is to classify Sublime as a “hippy band.” Sure, they had a lot of laid back, peaceful songs (“What I Got,” “Doin’ Time” and “Caress Me Down”), and they played that most-reggae influenced of all genres: Ska.

But there were also a lot of songs about definitely non-hippy things like participating in riots ( “April 29, 1992”), “Date Rape,” and child prostitution (“Wrong Way”). While I know many stoners love the anthem “Smoke Two Joints” I wonder if they realize Sublime covered SoCal hardcore bands Bad Religion and the Descendents on that same album.

So what do you guys think? Is Sublime a hippy band? After thinking about it I’m convinced they’re more of a crossover band designed to infiltrate the heads of well-meaning punks and get us to cross over to the dark, flowery-powery side.

 

Jerry Cantrell “Boggy Depot”


(7 April 1998, Columbia)

Boggy Depot is my favorite albums in the expanded Alice in Chains universe because it is the most unique. I really think this is the only album from AiC or Cantrell that doesn’t have Layne Staley on it anywhere.

I know what you’re thinking: “Staley died in 2002. He can’t be on any of the new Alice in Chains material, you fool!” but hear me out. See, Staley made a few appearances on Cantrell’s 2002 album as inspiration for the songs “Bargain Basement Howard Hughes,” “Pig Charmer” and “31/32.” Likewise, he appeared on the title track of the reunited AiC’s first album Black Gives Way To Blue. He’s not as noticeable on the more recent releases but I still hear him occasionally. It’s subtle. He appears in the harmonies and the phrasing. There are no more drug-addled demons being exorcized in the lyrics, but Staley still is and will always be a part of Alice in Chains. Much like Brian Johnson, Jason Newstead and Zakk Wylde no matter how great William DuVall proves to be he’s always going to have that shadow hanging over him.

The only song on Boggy Depot I could see working for Alice in Chains is “Jesus Hands.” It has the dark feel and guitar work that put them on the map. But even though it includes bassist Mike Inez and drummer Sean Kinney, I still can’t imagine how Staley would fit into the picture. Maybe he couldn’t either and that’s why it was skipped over during sessions for the Dog Album.

Much of the songs on that album are like that. “Dickeye” and “Cut You In” are both driving hard rockers. “Breaks My Back” is very similar to something AiC would do as a ballad. But the real treat is the songs that are unique to this particular album. “Between” has the most country feel. I’m not a huge fan of Country and Western music but I do enjoy Cantrell’s take on it in “Devil By His Side,” “Keep The Light On” and “Hurt A Long Time.” Sure, none of them are going to get him inducted into the Grand Ole Opry, but it’s always nice to hear someone do something different.

My favorites are the piano-driven songs. Something about that simple lick in “Settling Down” really gets me and “Cold Piece” is a great closer. I don’t think pianos make a whole lot of appearances on Alice in Chains material so it’s always nice when they pop up.

I would highly recommend this album as something everyone should listen to. If you’re a fan of Alice in Chains it’s a neat detour into another side of their primary songwriter. And if you’re not a fan of Alice in Chains this will give you a softer version of what you’re missing.

 

Happy Birthday Michael Stipe


This may be the end of my “Happy Birthday” series as it is the end of my Left-Handed people calendar, but I don’t want to say anything definitively.

Mom’s Christmas presents always get here late so I may continue it next year…

Or maybe it will spur a new post series.

Stay tuned to find out. Enjoy some R.E.M. while you wait.

Merry Christmas


I bought the Essential Weird Al Yankovic a few weeks ago. I’m not sure how essential I would rate the album, but it did have quite a few of his greatest hits as well as some new to me tracks that I really enjoyed.

It also had this old favorite that I’d just about completely forgotten about.

 

Merry Christmas.

Nine Inch Nails “Closure”


(25 November 1997, Nothing/Interscope)

I’m not a huge collector of CDs and DVDs. As such, I don’t have a huge number of shelves and other areas to store them. This posed a bit of a problem when my last girlfriend was moving in and trying to find space for her movie collection on my tiny storage rack. A friend from work had given it to me several years ago when I moved and it’s served me well ever since. It has enough space that the bottom is nothing but Daniel Tiger and Peppa Pig DVDs for my daughter. But when Darcy moved in it wasn’t nearly enough for both of our collections.

The obvious solution was to remove a few of my ‘questionable for children’ movies and put them in the less-visible entertainment stand cupboard. I suggested moving the GG Allin documentary Hated, GWAR’s Ultimate Video Gwarchive and Nine Inch Nails’ Closure to that area. My daughter hasn’t taken any interest in this sort of thing yet, but it’s good to be proactive.

It seemed like a good idea and we were able to make enough room on the shelves for both of our collections. Nevermind that she replaced Closure with Scarface. I think that’s a step in the right direction.

I’ve always loved the music video format and Nine Inch Nails were definitely at the top of the game. They were edgy, artsy, creative and controversial all rolled into one. The best part of this double VHS package is the tape that features all of their videos up to that point (with the exception of “Burn” from the Natural Born Killers soundtrack and “Gave Up” from the unreleased Broken movie).

Some of these videos I was familiar with from MTV and other stations: “Closer,” “The Perfect Drug,” “Head Like A Hole.” I even saw “Pinion” late one night. But a lot of these weren’t made to be aired on American TV. I was blown away by the strap-on clad, joint smoking guys in “Sin” and just a little disturbed by the torture machine in “Happiness in Slavery.” Throw in the musical snippets and electrocuting an elephant footage between the videos and you have the best music video collection ever released.

The other tape wasn’t nearly as good as I remembered. Which was strange considering this was one of the biggest musical influences on me during my teen years. Sure, there’s plenty of cool stuff on there: Backstage antics and destruction, celebrity/tourmate cameos featuring Lou Reed, Marilyn Manson, Jim Rose and David Bowie and live performances. Maybe in the DVD age, 60 minutes isn’t long enough for something like this and I would just like to have some more.

There are some great performances, “Terrible Lie,” “The Only Time,” and the “Hurt” duet with David Bowie are all great, but “Down in It” and “Something I Can Never Have” fall short. Plus, I’m unsure why “Wish” should appear on this tape when it appears on the other as both a live video and the official video. I guess I just would have liked to have seen more.

The best part is that we now live in the age of Youtube and all I have to do to see footage from early NIN shows, Lollapalooza or interviews is to open a tab on my browser and click down the rabbit hole. That’s never the same as having a nice physical copy of a video album. And this is one I’ll always cherish.

(I was going to post the NSFW “Happiness in Slavery,” but that’s not available on Youtube.)

You Can’t Say Anything Without Offending Someone


I’ve often heard the refrain “you can’t do anything without offending someone.” At first, I just shrugged it off as people being assholes and saying offensive things. I’ve never had much of a problem with it. But lately, I’ve noticed a few cases of political correctness run amok. I like to think of myself as a progressive and generally go with the flow, but there are a few terms I think it’s a shame we have whitewashed.

I mean, we used to be able to call people Nazis, Klansmen and racists. Now we have to call them “alt-right” or “White Nationalists.” It just doesn’t have the same gravitas to it. I mean, maybe we should get rid of Nazi as no one is actively plotting genocide (that we know of), but if you’re wearing a white robe with a pointy hat you’re a Klansman.

And the word ‘racist’ seems to have taken on the same air for whites as the N-word has for blacks. I’ve never seen white people get so offended at being called anything. We have our own racial epithets like ‘honkey,’ ‘birdshit’ and ‘peckerwood,’ but none of them ever elicited the same outrage as ‘spick,’ ‘chink’ or ‘nigger.’

Now people get pissed off about it. Someone will tell you that they never go to a certain Hardees because they have black cooks or that they’re voting for Trump because black on black violence makes it harder for them to do their job getting signatures on petitions, but when you call them racist they’re ready to fight you.

It’s so confusing.

We used to be able to call ignorant bigots like Archie Bunker buffoons, now we have to call them “Officer,” or “Your Honor” or “Mr. President.” It’s such a shame.

It’s weird that all these Trumpkins have such thin skin. Trump made his political name insulting President Obama. He has insulted all of his Republican rivals on the campaign trail, Senator John McCain, Pope Francis, NATO, The Department of Justice, the NFL, Justin Trudeau and one disabled reporter. You’d think a guy that dishes out the insults like that would be able to take them a little better. Oranges are known for their thick skin.

Everyone loved Trump for telling it like it is, but boy do they hate to see him called out.

But that’s a topic for another post.