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.

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.

 

Fuel “Sunburn”


(31 March 1998, 550, Epic)

A recent swimming trip with my daughter left me thinking about this album. I have the title all over my back! But it’s a good album to be thinking of. This is one that has survived numerous trips to the used record store to be sold. They never made an offer, but I liked it too much to send it to the Goodwill. So it’s remained in my collection.

It’s not the greatest album I own, but it’s far from the worst. It’s easy to lump Fuel in with all the other post-Grunge groups of the late nineties who only saw 15 minutes of fame, but Fuel has stuck with me through the years. Probably because my Mom loves them so much. But it could be that there’s some great songwriting here too.

“Shimmer” and “Sunburn” are both great tunes and obvious for singles. Both are the kind of semi-ballads that I can imagine listening to while dealing with a breakup.

What makes the album unique are the strange sounds that come in places like the into of “Bittersweet.” I have no idea what chord that is. The rest of the song is a great stereotypical hard rocker, but then it breaks to a really weird atmospheric guitar sound. There’s a great sense of balance there.

I’ve always loved “Jesus or a Gun.” It’ like American Psycho; there’s a message hidden in there. I have no idea what that message is, but I know it’s there.

Looking back on the singles it’s weird that these guys didn’t hit it big for another two years, but even the other tracks have some great stuff. I suppose a lot of it may come off as derivative though. A lot of other bands were doing stuff like this at the time. “It’s Come to This” makes me think of the Smashing Pumpkins for the experimental, atmospheric guitar tones. “Song For You” reminds me of Candlebox with the single-note intro. Not that Fuel was trying to ape these groups, it’s just a hazard of sharing a genre.

There are some other great hard rockers in there too. Opener “Untitled” is a great attention getter. “Ozone” is another that makes my ears perk up.

While some groups seemed to just jump aboard the grunge bandwagon as a way to fame, Sunburn scorches with authenticity. It’s not so much grungy as it is a solidly written album that just happened to be released when that was the sound you got.

You’d obviously be forgiven in 2018 for writing these guys off and not paying any attention, but you’d be missing out.

Did you hear?


Did you hear about L7 getting back together after a long hiatus? They’ve released a few new tunes and are even doing some touring.

I’d really like to go see them in concert, but I’d be really pissed off if I didn’t get hit by a used tampon. That would be as bad as going to a GG Allin show and not leaving covered in shit.

A Bad Career Move?


Did you hear Stone Temple Pilots have a new singer? That seems like a pretty dangerous position to me. Kinda like being a fisherman in the Gulf of Alaska, fronting a band with Pat Smear on guitar or serving in the Trump administration. I gotta hand it to Jeff Gutt, it takes some balls to step into a position held by two people who have died recently.

All joking aside though, I do think the new track sounds great and wish STP the best of luck. They definitely deserve it as they’ve been through a lot and weathered more than their fair share of bad luck.

Days of the New S/T (Yellow)


(3 June 1997, Outpost/Geffen)

I started getting into music at a really inopportune time.

The genre of rock that first appealed to me was grunge. I’ve written about the profound effect Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” had on me and it was truly life changing. Before that, I listened to whatever my parents handed down to me. After that, I was eager to set out on my own.

So why was it a horrible time? By the time I heard that song, Kurt Cobain was already gone. Soundgarden broke up just a few years later. Alice in Chains never officially broke up, but they went into hibernation shortly after my conversion. Pearl Jam is the only grunge band who continually released new music, but they put a lot of effort into remaining obscure.

It was almost like I discovered something I really loved and as soon as I did it was stolen from me by the Backstreet Boys and Spice Girls.

When I first heard Days of the New it was a breath of fresh air. There was finally something for me to get excited about. An unwashed, detuned, yarling ray of sunshine.

They never really dominated the airwaves, but “Touch, Peel and Stand” has become a rock radio staple. I’m even hearing that track on the local non-profit station. “Shelf in the Room” still pops up occasionally, but “The Down Town” seems to have faded into the ether.

I always loved how hard this album rocked. You wouldn’t expect a tune like “Freak” from a band with acoustic guitars. It’s a dumb gimmick, but it really helped to create a unique sound and establish a place on the map.

A lot of the other stuff is more experimental. “Face of the Earth” and “Solitude” are a bit too droning for me to get it down off the shelf very often. A few are good, but not really groundbreaking. The highlight for many tracks is the lead guitar work of Todd Whitener.

I was always a much bigger fan of their second album, which I found much more interesting.

Unfortunately, by the third album they were all out of tricks and produced a lackluster effort I didn’t buy. I think this will conclude my Days of the New series, but it won’t be the last time I load these albums on my MP3 player.

 

 

Soundgarden “Telephantasm”


(28 Sept 2010, A&M/Interscope)

Somewhere near the top of the list of jobs I’d never want is to be the guy who has to spend the next few weeks combing over Chris Cornell’s body of work to compile a hits album that is set to be released in ten… nine… eight…

I shouldn’t say that. It probably won’t be that bad. I’m sure there’s a team of people crunching numbers, scanning YouTube and Spotify stats and flipping coins deciding what will go on and what will be left on the cutting room floor.

Telephantasm is as close to a perfect Soundgarden retrospective album as you’re going to get for the price and length. 2 CDs/1DVD makes for a great overview of the band’s career and helps point to albums one may wish to explore further. Plus it’s not so long that it’s a chore to listen to and attention starts to wander.

“All Your Lies” does not start things off well. All tracks are in chronological order and this comes from a 1986 compilation featuring other popular bands from Seattle. I’m not sure if it’s poor production that turns me off from this track or a horrible guitar effect. Either way, I’d much rather skip to…

“Hunted Down” which is the first track featuring the Soundgarden we all know and love. Those screeching vocals and crazy guitar lines are all there. But before we can build momentum and get on a roll we have…

“Fopp” is a cover of an Ohio Players song. I’m not a fan. Funk is not something I find myself getting very heavily into and Soundgarden do not do it well.

“Beyond the Wheel” is just so-so. I can’t really feel strongly about it one way or the other. It’s definitely heavy and unique but has too slow a pace to really rock too hard.

“Flower” is the first song on this compilation I love. It has an odd main riff that worms it’s way into my head and is unique enough that I still haven’t gotten sick of it. This is the beginning of Soundgarden becoming a powerhouse.

“Hands All Over” picks up where “Flower” stops. It’s similar, but this is more of a good-time party rocker.

“Big Dumb Sex” has a title that fully explains itself. It’s big. It’s dumb. And the word fuck is used many, many times.

“Get on the Snake” is a good, groovy rocker, but it’s not quite great.

“Room a Thousand Years Wide” is the beginning of mega-stardom Soundgarden. This is one of the lesser known tracks from Badmotorfinger, but I’m not sure why. I enjoy this track a lot better than…

“Rusty Cage” isn’t a bad song. I always think of a motorcycle racing game for Sega that it was used in. Did any of you ever play Road Rash? It was pretty fun.

“Outshined” is the perhaps the biggest track from Badmotorfinger. The strange thing about it is how much it’s just a grunge version of the hair metal Soundgarden replaced. It’s just much sludgier.

“Slaves and Bulldozers” is another great deep cut. Why a track like this isn’t heard on the radio every hour is beyond me, but that’s probably why I can’t find a job as a station manager.

Disc Two starts off with a stellar live version of “Jesus Christ Pose.” This song has a ton of urgency, power, and speed on its album version, but the live version kicks all those elements into high gear. If you never hear another Soundgarden track, this is the one to hear.

“Birth Ritual” comes from the Singles Motion Picture Soundtrack. It’s another so-so song. It sounds like a stock track that they had lying around so they threw it on there.

The next five songs are taken right from Superunknown and are mostly the same tracks that appear on the album. The only alternate take is “Fell On Black Days” which is the video version. I think I enjoy this version better than the album version, but it isn’t extremely different. The only difference comes from Kim Thayil’s guitar lines. The rest has a nice laid-back, live-in-the-studio vibe.

Then there are four tracks from Down on the Upside. This time there are two alternate tracks. I remember when they performed “Pretty Noose” on Saturday Night Live. It’s a good version, but not stellar. “Blow Up The Outside World” is taken from an MTV Live ‘N’ Loud performance. It’s nice to have different versions instead of the same thing I can get on the other albums in my collection, but these tracks aren’t must hear like “Jesus Christ Pose.”

The album ends with “Black Rain,” an outtake from the Badmotorfinger sessions. Not a bad track, but I can see why it was left out.

 

All that’s missing from this collection is “Loud Love” and “The Day I Tried To Live.” The latter makes an appearance on the DVD, but it would be nice to hear while I’m listening to this cruising down the highway. If they were to add those tunes and a few more alternate/live takes I would call this collection perfect. As it is, I’ll have to give it 3.5/5 stars.

I just wonder how many discs the Cornell tribute will be. Telephantasm provides a great groundwork for the Soundgarden stuff, but there’s nothing from Temple of the Dog, Audioslave or any of his solo work. It’s going to have to be a box set, with (hopefully) a truncated version for us cheapos.

I just hope it does justice to a stellar career.

Foo Fighters “The Colour and the Shape”


(20 May 1997, Capitol)

I’m not a baseball fan, so pardon me if I screw up this analogy.

Foo Fighters’ debut was at least a triple play. It could be almost be said it was a home run, but I don’t think it quite made it over the fence. It was good. Hell, it was great. But there was something missing. It wasn’t quite a perfect album.

But as the old saying goes, you have as long as you need to write your first album. Dave Grohl had years to compile the songs on that album. The band had a considerably shorter time period to write the follow-up. Could they deliver? What were they going to do in their next at bat?

I’d have to say The Colour and the Shape is a grand slam. This was the album that catapulted Foo Fighters into the stratosphere. Before this album, you could expect to hear one Foos song on the radio for every ten Nirvana plays. Now you’re lucky to hear one Nirvana track for every twenty from the Foo Fighters.

They’re no longer “that band with the drummer from Nirvana.” Foo Fighters are now “the biggest fucking rock band in the world.” I’m not saying that every song on The Colour and the Shape is great, but they all flow together so well that even the throwaway tunes work in the context of the album to make it great.

“Monkey Wrench” was the perfect lead single. That hummable, descending guitar line and poppy melodies mix perfectly. It’s just heavy enough to appeal to metalheads, but light enough to bounce around to. “My Hero” is one of those songs where I like the video more than the actual song, but it’s still a great one. Those goofy guitar turnarounds at the end of the chorus make it all worth it for me. How do you listen to it and not play air guitar to those licks?

And how do you follow up something like “Big Me,” which is as close to a perfect love song as I’ve ever heard and puts a smile on my face nearly every time I hear it? With a song that the rest of the human population feels that way about! I can’t help but wonder how many children were born because of the song “Everlong.”

If you take the time to look past the singles there’s still great stuff. I’m not a fan of some of the lighter fare. “Doll” and “Walking After You” are a little too light for me. They remind me of a bag of potato chips – mostly air.  Stuff like “See You” and “New Way Home” are a lot better. Fun, simple rockers that get the feet tapping, but it’s the raunchy rockers that get my blood pumping.

I love “Hey, Johnny Park.” The main riff is just pure brilliance. I’m not sure if I heard this many years ago and it stuck in my head. It sounded familiar when I got my copy recently, but maybe it’s just one of those riffs that is so catchy I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t in my head.

“The Colour and the Shape” might be my favorite Foo Fighters song. When you hear the tunes “Times Like These” and “Best of You” it’s easy to forget that Dave Grohl cut his teeth playing in punk bands. When you hear the screams and noise of the title track it’s front and center.

The best thing about The Colour and the Shape is that it sounds like a group effort. Grohl already proved he could write and record an album on his own with Foo Fighters and the Late! cassette he released while still with Nirvana, but he doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who needs absolute control like Trent Reznor or Prince.

Utilizing the whole band turned out to be a good decision. This was the album that led to sold out arenas and a quarter billion dollar net worth. Sometimes all it takes is four guys in a room jamming to come up with a masterpiece.