Year 5, Day 12: Alice in Chains’ “Dirt”

Year 5, Day 12: Alice in Chains – Dirt

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Track List

  1. Them Bones
  2. Dam That River
  3. Rain When I Die
  4. Sickman
  5. Rooster
  6. Junkhead
  7. Dirt
  8. God Smack
  9. Intro (Dream Sequence)/Iron Gland
  10. Hate to Feel
  11. Angry Chair
  12. Down in a Hole
  13. Would?

About the Album

Dirt is the second studio album from Seattle-based grunge band, Alice in Chains. The album was recorded March to May of 1992 and released on September 29th 1992 through Columbia Records. The album peaked at number six on the Billboard 200, with all five singles (Would?, Them Bones, Angry Chair, Rooster, and Down in a Hole) all becoming top 30 hits. The album is certified 4x platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.

Thoughts on the Album

If you can’t tell, I am big fan of the hard, heavy, and heady stuff when it comes to music. I like being able to sense the pain or the emotions going through the singers’ mind as they belt out the lyrics. That’s why I love Alice in Chains‘ Dirt. You get a sense of the struggles that the band members were going through with addiction, depression, and many other issues. Dirt is an emotionally charged album, even 25 years after release. Maybe there is some irony with Alice in Chains being one of the more popular driving forces behind grunge of the 1990s, considering they were one of most grungy, most sludgy, and vile bands out there. But consider their contemporaries in grunge music that would clean up their sound (see Nirvana with Nevermind), why compromise on your sound even if you become popular. That’s the exact formula Alice in Chains used on this album.

Dirt, an album that is steeped in some of most morbidly dark and brutally honest songs was arguably one of the most flawless albums of the decade. It an album so dark, so gloomy, is damn near heavenly. Musically speaking, Dirt is the complete package, so consistent and consistently intense that it just couldn’t be ignored. For all the doom and gloom and heaviness, it starts off rather “lighthearted”and “upbeat” with Them BonesThem Bones, a song about our mortality, so much so, Layne Staley points out that it’s inescapable. The lyrics are supported a Drop-D guitar tuning that downtuned like crazy. It’s strange… the instruments give off this “hollow-like” feeling, that I guess would come to present the band during the time. Them Bones is highlight by those guitars downtuned to hell and Staley’s powerful (and gutteral) screams. The song’s rythym itself is in 7/8ths time.

After the second track, which is in the vein of the Stone Temple Pilots‘ Sex Type Thing, it’s essentially welcome to a music hellscape. Arguably the biggest hit for the band, spawned with Rooster. Trying to explain why this song was so incredibly successful is like trying to divide by zero… improssible, or in this case: inexplicable. By traditional “radio friendly” standards and metrics, it’s not radio friend by any means. The song clocks in a hefty six minutes fifteen seconds long. Not only that, it the subject matter is so damned obscure and specific. The song is a tribute to the two tours of duty that guitarist Jerry Cantrell‘s father did in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. The album continues to descend into this hellscape of messed up humanity.

The final track of Dirt, is Would?, a track about Mother Love Bone‘s guitarist, Andrew Wood, who died of a heroin overdose in 1990. I’m going to say it’s one of) (if not) the best songs that Alice in Chains ever wrote. It is only fitting for a song of this caliber to be placed at the end of the album. Fitting. Fitting that the best song of the band is used to close out the best album from the band. The song has a bone-chilling, hauntingly beautiful guitar melody, with powerful and catchy drums. It is a track that is gut-wrenching and highlights the best qualities of the band’s sound, style, and lyrics.

Conclusion

The argument could be made that Nirvana‘s Nevermind is one of the most influential grunge albums to come out of Seattle during the 1990s. But I disagree. This album is hauntingly beautiful album. It’s morbidly dark as it tackles the issues of the band (and of music scene of that time). It would all too easy to dismiss this album today as just garbage or noise or loud garbage. It’s more than just some suicide note of a man who is lost to addiction. No it’s much more than that. Dirt wrestles with depression and addiction on a primal level. When you listen to Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell join voices and unleash a gnarled verse that gives away into a full-throttled chorus, you get a sensation of elation and seemingly happiness rather than depression or anguish. When you think about it, it is as if they have broken the chains on the demons that shackled them down and they are now flying free and unfettered. In the end, it is like Alice in Chains with this album have brought you with them to experience this feeling of freedom, if only for one brief moment in time.

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